World Health Organization Labels Burnout “Syndrome”

The good news—there are more ways than ever to help people think, feel and move better at work.

Stressed at work? Take a breath. You are not alone. While the World Health Organization (WHO) is just now recognizing burnout, a result of stress, as an “occupational phenomenon,” the conversation around wellbeing at work is not new. If we learn anything from this newest designation, it’s that wellbeing cannot be ignored because the need to focus on it continues to intensify.

In May, WHO included burnout for the first time in its 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases which goes into effect January 2022. It described burnout as “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

WHO says you may be experiencing burnout if you feel:

  • Energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance, negative feelings or cynicism related to your job
  • Less productive at work

Two years prior to WHO’s announcement, Rand Corp., Harvard Medical School and the University of California, Los Angeles delivered a powerful study on more than 3,000 U.S. workers. It showed people are stressed at work and their physical and mental health is suffering as a result.

While WHO says it is working on guidelines for mental wellbeing in the workplace, this is far from a new conversation and there’s a lot we already know about how to feel better at work—mentally, physically and emotionally. Here’s some tips to avoid burnout:

Fuel the Brain

The relationship between physical activity, creativity and collaboration is vitally important. There’s no denying our body fuels our brain. The research around this mind-body connection continues to grow—Stanford University even found that walking increased creative output by an average of 60%. On the flip side, sitting can slow brain activity. Find ways to encourage people to set aside passive, sedentary behaviors for more active, physical engagement with colleagues and information to generate better ideas. (Read: The Science of Collaboration)

Steelcase Roam
Perching or standing signals active engagement and participation while large-scale collaboration technology lets people physically connect with content. (Shown here: Steelcase Flex Slim Table and Steelcase Roam Mobile Stand designed for the Microsoft Surface Hub 2S)

Find Private Time

We also know people can’t be “on” all the time. The best workplaces support teams while nurturing the needs of individuals (Read: New Work. New Rules). People need a place to breakaway. Sometimes they need to focus and other times they just need to let their mind wander. It’s these moments of solace when the brain can make serendipitous connections that lead to fresh ideas and new ways to approach problems.

Private Time

Pods create spaces for individuals and groups seeking to focus or collaborate within an open environment. (Show here: Orangebox Air³ pods are part of a collection of pods that come in different sizes and with different amenities including SnapCab and IRYS Pods.)

Private Time

Stand-alone office pods are simple to install and easy to move. These private and enclosed spaces help answer the demand for noise and distraction prevention in the workplace. (Shown here: SnapCab Pod)

Private Time

A touch-down destination like this one provides a spot for people to get focused work done while staying free from visual distractions. (Shown here: Lagunitas Focus Nook)

Steelcase Flex

Give people and teams control over how much privacy they want with elements that can be easily adjusted by the user. (Shown here: Steelcase Flex Collection Acoustic Boundary, Freestanding Screens and Screens designed for the Height-Adjustable Desk)

Get Active

The rise of ergonomics in the 1980s has put forth a tremendous amount of research around how to support the body at work. The bottom line—people need more than a chair they can adjust. They need the ability to change their posture throughout the day and they need to be encouraged to do so. The good news is there are more ways than ever to help people remain active and energized at work.

Let’s Move!

By letting teams easily move their displays from one spot to the next without disrupting flow, you can encourage active participation in meetings and let collaboration happen anywhere. (Shown here: Steelcase Roam Mobile Stand designed for the Microsoft Surface Hub 2S)

Let’s Move!

Take advantage of that cell phone everyone carries around with them. Active Touch controllers found on height-adjustable desks and benches can sync with an app so that people can set preferences for how often they want to stand. Then, it provides subtle reminders throughout the day and tracks how often someone sits and stands. (Shown here: Steelcase Rise app)

Let’s Move!

Create spaces that can be rearranged on demand. Moveable desks, tables, whiteboards, carts, space dividers and accessories that can be adjusted by anyone make it easy to move from one activity to the next. (Shown here: Steelcase Flex Collection)

Seek Social Connections

At its core, work is a social endeavor. People are happier at work when they have meaningful relationships and a sense of belonging. The workplace is an important tool to encourage social connections.

Social Connections

Provide a collection of social spaces so people can quickly switch from formal to informal conversations and ensure those places are not only inspiring, but can also perform. (Read: Planning for Performance.) (Shown here: Away from the Desk from Orangebox, Verlay Table, Node Chairs)

Social Connections

Create spaces and pathways that encourage spontaneous social connections. (Shown here: Umami Lounge System, Bassline Table and Jenny Chair by Turnstone and the West Elm Work Nolan Side Table)


Social Connections

Embed technology that helps people feel closer to their distributed team members. (For more design ideas, visit (Shown here: Steelcase Sylvi Lounge System and Orangebox Avi Lounge Chair)

Advance Your Purpose

In addition, we know people feel more engaged when they understand how their work connects to a bigger purpose. Whether purpose manifests in social impact or by advancing the larger business strategy, people want to feel like their work matters. The workplace can provide visual cues and reminders about an organization’s values and what’s being done to achieve its overall goals.

To learn more about how to design for wellbeing, read Wellbeing: A Bottom Line Issue from our 360 Magazine archives.

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