What is Burnout?
Burnout is a workplace syndrome involving stress due to a lack of workplace boundaries, unrealistic employer expectations, and not having the tools to manage negative emotions and feelings about workplace stress. Whether you are employed full-time, part-time, freelancing, or contracting, every worker can experience burnout. Burnout can be characterized by irritability, negative mental or physical symptoms, and low job satisfaction.
A recent survey by the American Psychological Association examined 1,501 workers, with 79% experiencing burnout at their current job. This calls for companies to prioritize employee well-being and reduce burnout symptoms.
The World Health Organization classifies burnout not as a medical condition but as an occupational phenomenon. Ultimately, burnout is a syndrome that results from chronic workplace stress that is not successfully managed.
There Are Two Main Ways to Measure Burnout: The Maslach Burnout Inventory (Mbi) And the Burnout Assessment Tool (Bat).
According to the MBI, three symptoms characterize burnout:
- 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, meaning low evaluation of one’s workplace performance
The BAT characterizes burnout as having four symptoms:
- extreme tiredness that is severely impairing
- mental withdrawal and psychological detachment
- reduced capacity to regulate cognitive processes
- reduced ability to regulate emotions
According to the World Health Organization, this type of burnout is specific in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life. Who is most at risk of burnout, and what can be done about it?
Employee Burnout Statistics
A 2018 survey from Deloitte found the top three workplace factors that may drive employee burnout:
- Lack of support or recognition for their work from leadership (31%)
- Unrealistic deadline and results expectations (30%)
- Consistently working long hours or on the weekends (29%)
They also found that burnout negatively affects personal and professional life:
- 91% of professionals endorse experiencing an unmanageable amount of frustration and stress, which negatively impacts the quality of their work.
- 83% of professionals state burnout from their work can negatively impact their personal relationships
- 66% of professionals say they often skip at least one meal a day due to stress and business from workload
- 1 in 4 workers rarely or never take all of their allotted vacation days
- 42% worry that issues may arise if they are away from work.
“Creating the culture of burnout is opposite to creating a culture of sustainable creativity.”– Arianna Huffington
Are Men or Women More Burned Out?
Despite the inconsistent findings, there is a commonly held belief that women are more burnt out than men. This belief can be harmful since managers and work peers may view women as more likely to burn out than men and may feed into unhelpful stereotypes about how the sexes display and manage signs of workplace stress.
Researchers examined the relationship between gender and burnout by assessing 183 studies and their results challenged this commonly held belief.
When it comes to burnout and gender:
- women are slightly more likely to experience emotional exhaustion, often feeling overextended, than men
- men are somewhat more likely to distance themselves from clients and coworkers psychologically than women (depersonalization)
- women that work and hold a preference for traditional roles may report higher levels of burnout than women with progressive role ideals
Burnout, Your Brain, and Mental Health
While burnout is a workplace phenomenon, it also has ties to brain function and mental health. Those experiencing burnout typically report difficulties with memory and concentration in their everyday lives.
Researchers have found that burnout is associated with a decline in three main cognitive functions:
- executive function
Researchers examined the relationship between mental illness and burnout. They found that there are distinct mental illnesses and burnout experiences: Burnout-depression and burnout-anxiety. They found a significant association between burnout and anxiety and burnout and depression.
Burnout-anxiety may look like…
- often feeling emotionally exhausted
- excessive worrying about one’s job
- prioritizing work needs above individual needs
Burnout-depression may look like…
- loss of interest in work tasks and duties
- often feeling physically exhausted at work
- having the presence of a biomarker, DNA methylation, which may be responsible for mediating stress-related disorders like burnout and depression
Emotional exhaustion is the burnout dimension most correlated the most with employees’ mental health.
Check out this video on your brain on burnout:
Which Generation Experiences More Burnout?
Generational researchers find that all age groups experience burnout. Those in the Millennial generation report the most burnout, with 84% having experienced burnout at their current job. Nearly half of millennials surveyed state they have left a job specifically because they experienced burnout.
Burnout significantly increased for all generations from 2020 to 2021:
- In 2020, 47% of Gen Z endorsed burnout, according to a survey by Indeed, rising to 58% in 2021
- Before 2020, 53% of millennials were already burned out, raising to 59% in 2021
- Gen X’ers endorsed a 14% jump to 40% feeling burned out in 2021.
Burnout changes from 2020 & 2021 by generation
Here’s how generations vary in reasons for feeling burnout:
- Gen X, Gen Z, and boomers all state financial difficulties like paying bills as their top reason for feeling burnt out
- 40% of millennials cite lack of free time as the top reason for their burnout
Your Personality and Burnout
Did you know that your personality can make you more prone to burnout? A comprehensive study found that the two strongest relationships between burnout and personality traits are neuroticism and extraversion:
- the burnout factor, emotional exhaustion, is negatively related to extraversion and positively associated with neuroticism
- depersonalization is negatively associated with agreeableness and positively related to neuroticism
- reduced positive feelings about one’s professional accomplishments are positively associated with extraversion and negatively related to neuroticism
Dr. Daniel J. Fox is a personality disorder psychologist. He examined burnout, personality traits, and how they manifest in the workplace:
- being emotionally exhausted, higher in neuroticism, and low in extraversion may exhibit feelings of tension and frustration that influence you to self-isolate when stressed at work
- feelings of depersonalization, being low in agreeableness, and more sensitive to negative emotions may show as being skeptical of motives of coworkers that have positive intentions
- displaying a lack of positive feelings about one’s professional accomplishments, being more extraverted and higher in neuroticism may look like consistently underestimating your achievements at work
Want to find out more about personality traits? Check out the Big 5 (OCEAN) Personality Test
Burnout by Industry: What Profession Experiences the Highest Burnout Rate?
Not every job industry will have the same amount of burnout. For instance, the type of job, personal characteristics, and resources play essential roles in developing burnout for those in the mental healthcare profession.
Here are the professions with the highest levels of burnout:
- Consumer goods
The most common theme among these industries is frontline workers, such as nurses, who are more susceptible to high rates of burnout.
According to the Microsoft 2021 Work Trend Index, these are the occupations that have the highest rates of burnout-related turnover:
3. Fast Food and Retail workers
4. Social Worker
5. Police Officer
6. Air Traffic Controller
7. Emergency Response Worker
10. Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
Another aspect of burnout is workplace stress. A 2022 article by Zippia found the most and least stressful jobs along with their median salaries (in US dollars):
The most stressful jobs plus their median salaries:
- Enlisted military personnel (three or four years): $26,802
- Firefighter: $49,080
- Airline pilot: $111,930
- Police officer: $62,960
- Broadcaster: $62,960
- Event coordinator: $48,290
- News Reporter: $39,370
- Public relations executive: $111,280
The least stressful jobs plus their median salaries:
- Diagnostic medical sonographer: $71,410
- Compliance officer: $67,870
- Hair stylist: $25,850
- Audiologist: $75,920
- Medical records technician: $67,870
- Jeweler: $37,960
- Operations research analyst: $81,890
Researchers also examined the average days of stress per week by industry. These are the top eight industries with the most stressful days:
- Marketing & Advertising: 3.84 stressful days per week
- Arts, Entertainment, & Recreation: 3.41 stressful days per week
- Wholesale & Retail: 3.39 stressful days per week
- Telecommunications: 3.38 stressful days per week
- Military & Public Safety: 3.35 stressful days per week
- Hotel, Food Services, & Hospitality: 3.31 stressful days per week
- Technology: 3.25 stressful days per week
- Publishing, Broadcasting & Journalism: 3.24 stressful days per week
Source: Data from Zippia
How Does Income Level Affect Burnout Rate?
Does income matter when it comes to burnout? It turns out low income doesn’t necessarily mean high job burnout. Researchers couldn’t find a direct correlation between workplace burnout and low income.
The income sweet spot for burnout is $125K-150K income range:
- 60% of people in this income bracket endorse experiencing job burnout in the past
- 25% in this income range claim they are currently burned out
Burnout Makes you Less Creative
Did you know that your brain needs downtime? Overly demanding workplace cultures requiring long hours with little time off do not allow our brains to get the break they need to be more productive, focused, and creative.
There is a common misconception that having more downtime leads to less productivity. It turns out that our brains at rest are not idle! Researchers at the University of Southern California argue that the nuanced default mode network is at work when our brains are at rest. This network is associated with daydreaming and mental processes responsible for internal ethics, interpreting human behavior, and our sense of self. It turns out that the default mode network is more active than usual for creative people!
Digital anthropologist Rahaf Harfoush argues that today’s toxic productivity culture is incompatible with more abstract and creative-driven jobs. She notes that creativity is not linear. It ebbs and flows with our energy fluctuating daily, weekly, and seasonally. Rahaf proposes that workplaces prioritizing employee well-being should cultivate systems that work with our creativity, not against it.
Here are four self-reflection questions Harfoush proposes to remedy burnout:
- Does being busy make you feel valuable?
- Who do you hold up as an example of success?
- Where did your ideas of work ethic come from?
- How much of who you are is linked to what you do?
You can check out her TED video: Rahaf Harfoush: How burnout makes us less creative | TED Talk
Does Remote Work Affect Burnout?
According to an Indeed workplace survey, remote workers experienced an increase in burnout compared to on-site workers from 2020-2021.
This could be due to a lack of work-life balance:
- 61% of remote workers claim they find it more difficult to “unplug” from their work
- 53% of virtual employees are working more hours now than they were before 2021
- 31% of work-from-home employees say they feel they are working “much more” than they did when they worked on-site in 2020
Flexjobs surveyed 1,500 remote workers and found that burnout is on the rise. Here are the top five ways to avoid burnout as a remote worker:
- Turn off work and email notifications: When you are not “at work,” turn off your email and chat messages.
- Develop boundaries: Have a dedicated workspace and set clear boundaries for when you are “in” and “out of the office.”
- Engage in more personal activities: Schedule personal activities and enjoyable hobbies to partake in during your free time.
- Request flexible scheduling: Ask your manager about a more flexible schedule to control your days better and balance your professional and personal responsibilities.
- Leave work for work hours: Dedicate your work days to your schedule; no one likes working late!
Does Burnout Vary by Country?
Not all countries experience the same level of burnout:
- Between 2021 and 2022, Australia and Germany-based organizations saw a slight drop in burnout from 19% to 15%
- United Kingdom-based companies saw the most elevated levels of burnout risk at 41%, possibly due to low staffing and materials.
- US companies had the lowest proportions of burnout risk, at 17%, possibly due to the large organization size to support health and well-being initiatives to address burnout risk.
The countries that ranked the best for components that decrease burnout risk:
- United States
All of these countries ranked highest in these three core components of burnout risk:
- employee energy levels
- job fulfillment
A recent study on burnout and turnover in nurses from Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, and the United States found that:
- Nurses in all countries cited a lack of support during working hours for their burnout
- Burnout and turnover were lowest in Thailand
- Exhaustion was the highest in Japan
- Cynism and intention to quit were highest in Malaysia
- All countries show an essential need for reducing stressors to prevent burnout, especially by providing employees with the support they need
Countries vary by how they handle workplace factors related to burnout, such as paid leave:
- The United States is the only developed nation that does not guarantee paid vacation leave and the only industrialized country that doesn’t guarantee paid parental leave. Americans also work longer hours than most of western Europe, Australia, and Canada. Thankfully, the US National Labor relations Act allows and encourages collective bargaining and protects workers’ rights to join unions. A 2020 study found that unions for nurses can help reduce stress and burnout.
- The United Kingdom guarantees full-time workers at least 28 days of paid annual leave a year. A recent study found that 80% of HR directors in the UK surveyed worry about losing top employees due to burnout. The British government has made efforts to fight workplace burnout. In 2001 the UK Health and Safety Executive implemented a 10-year plan to reduce employee stress.
- In Japan, the word “karoshi” means burnout which leads to death, and “karojisatsu” is suicide related to being overworked. Cases of karoshi and karojisatu that can be proven result in awards to the victim’s families of around $20,000, with employers sometimes paying up to one million dollars in damages.
- The Chinese are also accustomed to worker death due to overwork, “guolaosi“. From factory workers to white-collar employees, burnout-induced suicide in China is alarmingly prevalent. Human rights experts claim China does have laws protecting workers from extended hours, but the main issue is the laws are not enforced. It turns out China does not allow local companies to bargain for better working conditions collectively.
In 2000 the World Health Organization noted in their report called “Mental Health and work: Impact, issues, and good practices” that in the majority of countries, there is no specific legislation to address the impact of job stress and burnout. Many countries at least have minimum standards for health and safety factors in the workplace. Yet, these standards do not include mental elements that are important for addressing burnout. Instead, they solely focus on the physical aspects of working.
How to Aid and Prevent Burnout
According to a corporate workplace survey, 69% of professionals feel their employer does not offer enough resources or do enough to minimize employee burnout. 21% of professionals say their company does not offer or provide initiatives and programs to alleviate burnout.
Results show that companies that aim to prevent workplace burnout should offer the following:
- flexible work options
- wellness and health programs
- paid time off for recovery or mental health days
- 36% of all workers say more PTO could help reduce burnout
Here are the top 4 ways 1,000 employees surveyed aided their burnout:
- 51% talk to friends or family
- 50% sleep or take personal time off
- 44% exercise
- 30% pray or meditate
Exhaustion is a huge component of burnout. If you want to aid and prevent burnout, prioritize sleep! Researchers found that less than 6 hours of sleep per night was the primary determinant of burnout. Factors such as “thoughts of work during leisure time” and “work demands” were associated with burnout but mattered less than sleep.
Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post and author of The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time, wrote a recent article on how there are no burnout loopholes, even for geniuses. “The science of sleep—and the effects of sleep deprivation—is clear. No matter how smart we are, sleep deprivation makes us reactive, reckless, and impulsive. Studies also show that chronic sleep deprivation has the same cognitive effects as being “drunk.”
Did you know healthy selfishness can combat burnout? Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufmann defines healthy selfishness as a robust respect for our growth, happiness, health, freedom, and joy. His team’s research has found that having high levels of healthy selfishness positively impacts your and others’ well-being!
The best way to cultivate healthy selfishness at work is to develop healthy boundaries. This can look like saying no to extra projects when you already have a lot on your plate, delegating tasks instead of doing everything on your own, and taking time off when you feel exhausted and sick. You can test your healthy selfishness levels here!
Vacationing is also a great way to prevent and aid burnout. When our brains get downtime, we can make sense of what we recently experienced, reflect on internal processes rather than the external world, and bring unresolved stress to the forefront of our minds easier. Unfortunately, research shows that only half of full-time employees take all their allotted vacation time.
According to a recent Qualtrics survey on vacation time:
- 45% of American employees receive two weeks or less of paid vacation
- Vacation time is wasted:
- Only 27% of employees actually used all their paid vacation time in 2021
- 26% had a week or more of unused paid vacation time leftover at the end of the year
- On average, employees had 9.5 unused vacation days leftover in 2021
- 32% say unused vacation time goes to waste since it does not roll over to next year
- 28% say they don’t get reimbursed for their unused vacation days
To prevent burnout, all workers should start doing these three things:
- Set workplace boundaries- leave work at work!
- Take sick days as needed and all of your vacation days
- Engage in more personal activities outside of work
This article was written with the help of an AI-based research article search engine: www.consensus.app, making it easier to deliver you the statistics of burnout!
Burnout and loneliness go hand-in-hand; read more about US Loneliness Statistics.