WHO said it

going grammanda

I’m an admitted grammarphile.

I still correct my children (and others): come—not go; bring—not take; lie—not lay; if I were —not if I was; I wish I had—not I wish I would have, I could not care less—not I could care less….

And commas! “Let’s eat Grandma” and “Let’s eat, Grandma” present two very different menus.

Almost nobody knows how to use a semicolon properly.

And apostrophes, my God the apostrophe abuse….

I know, language is meant to be a living thing: it evolves. Even serious writers and journalists now use “I wish I would have” and “If I was” with impunity. And professional signs proclaim: Open Saturday’s!

In case you want to slap the grammar fascist label on me (or just slap me), I will say in my defense that I’ve become slightly more accepting of vocabulary shifts and I wait impatiently for the list of new words added to the dictionary that comes out every year—and perhaps with even more impatience for the list of words that people suggest, complete with hilarious and inappropriate definitions.

I’m a collector of nerbs—words that used to be nouns and are now used as verbs: calendar, lunch, office, surface….

defining burnout

Yes, I do have something health-coaching related to say, but bear with me a minute longer.

My high school was shaped like a squared-off U. At the bottom of each leg of the U there was a looong row of windows.

The two sections attracted very different types of guys: one was called “stud row,” and that’s where the cool, popular, athletic boys hung out; the other was called “crud row,” and that’s where, well—dare I use the word “undesirables”?—hung out.

Walking past either of those two rows of windows was like running the gauntlet for any self-respecting nerd, so I usually chose to go the other way—where you had to go outside—even in winter, which is COLD without a coat in Vermont.

I think it was in early high school that I first heard the term “burnout,” and it was used to refer to many of the kids on crud row, the ones who frequented the smoking area between (and sometimes during) classes, who already had drug problems.

(Wow—I am old: can you imagine my high school had an actual smoking area?!?)

redefining burnout

The word “burnout” was coined in the 1970s (not too long before I went to high school!) by the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, who used it to describe the consequences of severe stress and high ideals in “helping” professions.

It was a rather vague, “squishy” term for decades.

In May 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it is updating its definition of burnout in the new version of its handbook of diseases, the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), which will go into effect in January 2022.

Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy. Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.

~WHO, ICD-11

what it means

What does this mean for the world?

Well, since it won’t go into effect until January 2022, not much in the next few years.

However, in the near future, it’s likely that HR departments will need to face the fact that some (a lot of?) employees will have a doctor’s note and probably a prescription for dealing with burnout.

Presumably, firing those employees for poor job performance will become illegal.

My cynical side wants to say that, knowing how the conventional medical field operates in America (in cooperation with Big Pharma), the prescription will likely be just that: go to the pharmacy, take this pill, and all will be well.

My optimistic side wants to do a little dance: if there ever was (not were) an opportunity for health coaches to step up and work alongside the medical field, this is it!

If someone wants to take a pill to “cure” burnout, that’s their choice; however, those pills are only going to relieve the symptoms, not address the cause.

I’ll be writing more about burnout in the next few weeks—it’s the focus of my pitch to Michigan Women Forward’s Woman Up + Pitch competition in November—and for now, I recommend this article on the topic.

Leave a comment and let me know: Have you dealt with burnout, and if so, how have you addressed it?


  1. Audrey Acton

    My high school had a smoking section as well. Crazy now to think of that. So thankful for a real definition. An epidemic of epic proportions is happening with burn out. I applaud you for bringing it up. And, I look forward to your “solutions”.

    1. Elizabeth Baker

      And I look fwd to sharing them with you TOMORROW! <3

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