Job Factors That Contribute to Employee Burnout

Stressed businesswoman leaning on a windowsill and bending over

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Employment burnout, also known as "job burnout" or just "burnout," is a state where you lose all motivation or incentive, leading to feelings of depression or stress. This can be a very uncomfortable state, usually because it has come after a long period of stress or a shorter period of high stress, feelings of powerlessness or overwhelm, and a sense of hopelessness as it may feel insurmountable to pull yourself out of the pit of burnout once you find yourself there.

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What Is Job Burnout?

Burnout is more than just a feeling of stress at the job in that it tends to follow you from day to day, presenting itself as a feeling of dread on Sunday night (if you know you have to work again on Monday), a feeling of being unable to muster any enthusiasm or motivation for your work and a lack of pleasure in what you do. It can feel scary because you may not know how to get yourself out of this place once you're feeling burned out.

Burnout can come from a sense of overwhelming stress, but it tends to come most from specific types of stress and factors in a job. There are several factors that can contribute to burnout, including job-related features, lifestyle factors, and personality characteristics. Some companies and industries have much higher rates of burnout than others.

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Common Job Features That Result in Burnout

The following features tend to cause more stress, taking more of a toll on workers:

  • Unclear Requirements: When it’s not clear to workers how to succeed, it’s harder for them to be confident, enjoy their work, and feel they’re doing a good job. If the job description isn’t explained clearly, if the requirements are constantly changing and hard to understand, or if expectations are otherwise unclear, workers are at higher risk of burnout.
  • Impossible Requirements: Sometimes it’s just not possible to do a job as it’s explained. If a job’s responsibilities exceed the amount of time given to complete them properly, for example, it’s really not possible to do the job well. Workers will put in a lot of effort and never quite feel successful, which also leaves them at risk for burnout.
  • High-Stress Times With No “Down” Times: Many jobs and industries have “crunch times” where workers must work longer hours and handle a more intense workload for a period. This can actually help people feel invigorated if the extra effort is recognized, appropriately compensated, and limited. It starts becoming problematic when “crunch time” occurs year-round and there’s no time for workers to recover.
  • Big Consequences for Failure: People make mistakes; it’s part of being human. However, when there are dire consequences to the occasional mistake, like the risk of a lawsuit, for example, the overall work experience becomes much more stressful, and the risk of burnout goes up. Those in law or healthcare often have higher rates of burnout because of the potential consequences.
  • Lack of Personal Control: People tend to feel excited about what they’re doing when they are able to creatively decide what needs to be done and come up with ways of handling problems that arise. Generally speaking, workers who feel restricted and unable to exercise personal control over their environment and daily decisions tend to be at greater risk for burnout.
  • Lack of Recognition: It’s difficult to work hard and never be recognized for one’s accomplishments. Awards, public praise, bonuses and other tokens of appreciation and recognition of accomplishment go a long way in keeping morale high. Where accolades are scarce, burnout is a risk.
  • Poor Communication: Poor communication in a company can cause or exacerbate some of these problems, like unclear job expectations or little recognition. When an employee has a problem and can’t properly discuss it with someone who is in a position to help, this can lead to feelings of low personal control.
  • Insufficient Compensation: Some occupations are stressful by nature, and it’s one of those things that you just accept along with the paycheck – if the paycheck is sufficient. However, if demands are high and financial compensation is low, workers find themselves thinking, “They don’t pay me enough to deal with this!” And the burnout risk goes up.
  • Poor Leadership: Company leadership can go a long way toward preventing or contributing to burnout. For example, depending on the leadership, employees can feel recognized for their achievements, supported when they have difficulties, valued, safe, etc. Or they can feel unappreciated, unrecognized, unfairly treated, not in control of their activities, insecure in their position, unsure of the requirements of their jobs, etc. Poor company leadership is one factor that can influence many others – many of which can put an employee at risk for burnout.

What to Do About Employee Burnout

If you are experiencing job burnout, try to take a break in order to recover. You can also try simpler stress relievers like breathing exercises and positive reframing to help relieve stress you feel in the moment, and more long-term stress relievers like regular exercise, maintaining a hobby (for personal balance), or meditation. You can try to change aspects of your job to create a greater sense of knowing what to expect and perhaps having more choice in how you perform your job.

If job burnout is persistent, it may be worth considering seeking professional help with the stress, and perhaps even another career path, as continued stress can impact your health

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.