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By Shamard Charles, M.D.

Finding a suitable balance between work and daily living is a challenge that many workers in the United States face.

Excelling in the office, exceeding expectations, and climbing the corporate ladder are all a part of the American dream. But many Americans struggle to successfully combine work, family commitments and personal life.

And that struggle can lead to an all-too-familiar feeling: burnout.

In fact, occupational burnout is such a problem in the U.S. and around the world that the World Health Organization decided to address the problem during its recently concluded World Health Assembly in Geneva.

The WHO said Tuesday that “burnout” is an “occupational phenomenon” that could lead someone to seek care although they did not go as far as to call it an official medical condition.

The international body even updated its International Classification of Diseases list, which is used globally as a benchmark for health diagnosis, to include the following identifiers to help doctors easily spot the syndrome:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy.

Why are we so burned out?

One reason may be the increasing globalization and technology use, which compel 24/7 connectivity, creating an environment in which it is almost impossible to disengage from work.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which represents the vast majority of the world’s most advanced economies, says 11 percent of U.S. employees work 50 or more hours a week and the average American spends 40 percent of their day dedicated to their job. As a result, the U.S. ranks toward the bottom of the work-life balance spectrum among developed countries.

And there’s a cost to the burnout: Stressful jobs contribute to 120,000 deaths each year and cost U.S. businesses up to $190 billion in health care costs, according to a 2016 paper from researchers at the Harvard Business School and Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

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