Burnout is most frequently attributed to stress related to work. In fact, the World Health Organization specifically recognized burnout as an “occupational phenomenon”, ruling out other more broad definitions.

Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • 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.

Source: Burn-out an “occupational phenomenon”: International Classification of Diseases

The origin of the term specifically referred to job stress as well. This article notes that the term was coined by Herbert Freudenberger, in his book, “Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement” published in 1980 where it was defined as follows:

Burnout is a reaction to prolonged or chronic job stress and is characterized by three main dimensions: exhaustion, cynicism (less identification with the job), and feelings of reduced professional ability.

However, other guides seem to define it more generally to be more inclusive of a non-occupational related burnout. Miriam-Webster defines the term as:

Exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.

This does not specifically rule out burnout in a non-occupational context and, perhaps, given the newness of the concept, the use of the term is expanding beyond its original scope.

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