Traits and Attitudes That Increase Burnout Risk

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While many burnout risk factors have to do with job structure and lifestyle factors, certain personality characteristics can exacerbate your experience of stress, making you more susceptible to burnout. While much of personality is inborn, it’s important to be aware of how your personal makeup and tendencies can contribute to your stress response, so you can adjust what you can. The following personal characteristics can affect your stress level and put you at an increased risk for burnout.

Perfectionist Tendencies

Striving to do your best is a sign of a hard worker and can be a positive trait that leads to excellence. However, perfectionism can cause excessive stress and sometimes be crippling. What’s the difference between striving for excellence and being a perfectionist? Perfectionists beat themselves up if everything isn’t perfect, whereas mere hard workers are happy with a near-perfect job well done. Perfectionists sometimes won’t even try to accomplish a task because they’re too terrified of ‘failure’—which can be defined as anything less than perfect! If you’re a perfectionist, you should practice forgiving yourself for being human, and congratulate yourself for being great (even when you’re human).


Pessimists tend to see the world as more threatening than optimists. They worry more about things going wrong, expect more bad things than good, believe in themselves less, and have other key differences. Pessimists cause themselves unnecessary stress in many everyday situations, putting themselves at an increased risk for burnout. Fortunately, optimism can be learned, to a degree. (Not sure if you’re an optimist or a pessimist? Take this quiz.)


Some people are just naturally more excitable than others. They have a stronger response to stress, and it’s triggered more easily. (These differences can be observed in very young babies and tend to be stable over a person’s lifetime.) There’s not much you can do to change your body’s chemistry, but you can practice tension relieving strategies that can help you calm down when you do get stressed, and you can practice positive self-talk strategies so you perceive situations as less threatening.

Type A Personality

You’ve probably heard of ‘Type A Personalities’, which put people at an increased risk for cardiac disease and other health and lifestyle difficulties. While many people know what a ‘Type A’ personality is, the two cardinal characteristics are 1) time impatience and 2) free-floating hostility. Being ‘Type A’ (or working closely with someone who is) can cause additional and chronic stress, increasing burnout risk. If you find yourself being impatient with people and life’s minor hassles and having trouble keeping from lashing out at people, you may be 'Type A'. If so, here are some ways to deal with Type A tendencies.

Poor Fit for the Job

Are you detail-oriented, or do you look at the overall big picture? Do you tend toward extroversion, or are you more comfortable away from lots of people? Do you like structure or flexibility?

If your life’s work requires skills that fit your strengths, you will tend to feel happier with what you do; however, if your personality doesn’t mesh with your job description, you will feel stressed much of the time, and be at an increased risk for burnout.

Not sure if you and your lifestyle are a good match? This test has been widely given to help people understand how their personality characteristics differ from other people’s and see their inborn strengths and weaknesses. Take it to get to know yourself better so you’ll know if you and your job are a good match.

Lack of Belief in What You Do

Some jobs are poorly compensated, but supply great rewards in terms of making a difference in the lives of others and making the world a better place. For those who believe in what they’re doing, stress is less of a factor; however, if you don’t believe in your life’s work, it’s harder to put up with the difficulties that come with it.

Whether you’ve become disillusioned with your job, you went into your field for the wrong reasons, your values conflict with those of a company you work for, or you never really believed in what you were doing in the first place, if your life’s work conflicts with your values, the cognitive dissonance created by doing something you don’t believe in day after day can take a toll and lead to an increased risk for burnout.

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