What is Causing Occupational Burnout?

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Feeling exhausted, have no enthusiasm and feeling ineffective at your job you may have burnout. Among jobs human service professions have the highest level of occupational burnout. These professions include teachers and physicians.

Occupational Burnout

Occupational burnout is a type of psychological defined by exhaustion, enthusiasm, and motivation and even feelings of frustration. Occupational burnout is common in all industries and companies. Occupational burnout is usually found in human service professions such as in the medical, educational and social field. Symptoms of occupational burnout include working harder, being withdrawn and exhaustion. The following are occupations of high level of burnout and there causes.


Neurologists may have high rates of career satisfaction and quality of life but burnout continue to greatly afflict neurologists, according to a survey conducted last year among US neurologists. A survey was sent to US American Academy of Neurology member neurologists. Among the 1,671 neurologist that responded to the survey six out of ten or 60 percent had at least one symptom of burnout including emotional exhaustion (53.4%), high depersonalization (41.4%) and low personal accomplishment (21.2%). Hours worked/week, nights on call/week, number of outpatients seen/week, and amount of clerical work were associated with greater burnout risk. Regardless of burnout 67 percent had indicated they were satisfied with their occupation and if they had to do it all over again they would. Among neurologist those in academic practice had lower burnout rates compared to those in clinical practice. (Neurology. doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000003640)

Social Workers

Research has suggested that social work is a highly stressful profession with stress coming from conflict between client advocacies and meeting agency needs. In a review of social work literature, researchers had found the literature suggests that social workers may have higher levels of stress resulting in burnout compared to occupational groups. Factors that contributed to burnout included the nature of the work particularly tension between philosophy and work demands of the organization and the environment. There was some evidence that supervision and team support can help with burnout. (Journal of Mental Health, Volume 11, 2002 – Issue 3)

Registered Nurses

Researchers used survey data from 843 direct care hospital nurses and found that nurses under the age of thirty were more likely to have feelings of agitation and less likely to use techniques to manage the feelings compared to older nurses. Younger nurses have higher rates of burnout especially among nurses who had higher levels of work agitation. In the daily routine of hospital nurses they have frustration due to stress and dangerous levels or exhaustion. Researchers used the standard measure of emotional exhaustion component of burnout. The level of burnout was significantly higher that what is normally expected among medical workers. Reasons of burnout included lower job satisfaction, turnover rate, and depression and decreased physical health. Their feelings of burnout appear to be influenced more by organizational practices in the workplace than by the challenges of patient care.( (“Why emotions matter: Age, agitation, and burnout among registered nurses,” American Nurses Association Periodicals OJIN volume 13, 2008)


A study examined relationships between level teacher burnout and professional and personal variables. The results showed secondary school teachers had higher levels of burnout and teachers with only a few years of experience had higher levels of burnout working with adolescents in high school. The higher burnout rate among teachers with a few years’ experience raises concerns as to the maturity level including the ability to cope with daily demands of stress. However, as teachers gained experience and learned coping skills burnout levels decreased. Female teachers had higher rates of burnout compared to male teachers and younger teachers had higher burnout rates than older teachers. (Others, B., Paul |And. (1982, February 1). Teacher burnout: A study of professional and personal variables.)


A study examined the association between burnout and occupational stress among lawyers. The study includes 180 lawyers from 25 law firms. Questionnaires were used to measure occupational stress and a Burnout inventory questionnaire as used to measure personal, work-related and client-related burnout. Lawyers had higher scores when it came to job control, psychological demands and effort, and high prevalence of self-perceived work stress. Litigation lawyers had higher decision authority but had higher work-related and client-related burnout compared to non-litigation lawyers. High occupational stress was associated with high levels of personal and work-related burnout among lawyers. (Journal of Occupational Health 51(5):443-50 · August 2009 DOI: 10.1539/joh.L8179)


Researchers examined and compared experience of job burnout among 249 construction engineers working with consulting and contracting organizations. The most factors contriving to burnout was emotional exhaustion, pessimism and declined efficiency. Engineers working with contracting organizations had higher levels of burnout compared to engineers working with consulting organizations. Burnout was mostly associated to stressors linked to job conditions and working environment. (Journal of Management in Engineering Volume 25 Issue 3-July 2009 http://dx.doi.org/10.1061/(ASCE)0742-597X(2009)25:3(122)

Police Officers

Don Kurtz, assistant professor of social work at Kansas State University examined data from a survey of officers in the Baltimore Police Department. For a follow-up Kurtz interviewed officers from three police departments. The findings showed that male and female officers have different sources of stress and ways to deal with the stress. One of the biggest differences found was the role of family in a officers stress. For male officers family helps them deal with stress from the job where as women may not have the same support due to women settling in the role of caretaker and come home to second shift. Working strange hours are more acceptable to male officers than female officers. Kurtz also looked at how race changes stress between men and women. For instance black male officers report lower levels of stress than white men but also report higher burnout levels. (Feminist Criminology, 3(3), 216–238. doi:10.1177/1557085108321672)

Customer Service

Research on work aggression or anger has been usually concentrated on supervisors or co-workers that incite the aggression however, aggressive customers are more likely to have consequences for the employee. The study looked at 198 customer service employees at two different work sites. The results showed the frequency and stressful opinion of the customer aggression was positively associated to emotional exhaustion of burnout.( Journal of Organizational Behavior, J. Organiz. Behav.25, 1–22 (2004)
Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com).DOI: 10.1002/job.252)F


A study compared the rate of high burnout among family physicians and general practitioners. The study used a specially designed questionnaire sent to 378 physicians, 200 completed the questionnaire with 105 being family physicians and the rest primary care physicians. The results showed general practitioners had higher rates of emotional exhaustion than family physicians (63.2% vs 19.0%). General practitioners also higher rates of depersonalization (65.35) compared to family physicians (27.6%). One-third of primary care physicians (36.8%) suffered from three burnout areas compared to family physicians (5.7%). The researchers conclude burnout was more common among primary care physicians than family physicians. (Alexandria Journal of Medicine volume 47 issue 4 December 2011 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ajme.2011.10.005)

Treating Burnout

Here are a few ways to treat burnout.

Get the Best Sleep
Burnout is usually linked to sleep issues. Burnout throws off your hormonal balance so you need to get back your natural cardiac rhythm. You can use melatonin short-term to help but making lifestyle choices is the best option such as only watch television for two hours only before bedtime.

Eat Healthy
Chronic stress exhausts our supply of key nutrients so eating healthy is the best defense. Certain herbs like rhodiola rosea help reduce your stress levels. When tired and overstressed omit food and drinks with caffeine such as chocolate, coffee and soda.

Research shows meditation is a valuable tool when it comes to stress or you can give Tai chi a try or find a hobby that you enjoy.

Keep a journal and write down how you felt about your day. Write down your thoughts and feelings you may have along with any physical symptoms.

Mark's Daily Apple


Emotional Demands, Exhaustion, Frustration, Human Service Professions Work Environment, Occupational Burnout, Psychological Stress

Meet the author

author avatar authordeb
Author of the Love and Laughter series
Alternative Medicine Practitioner
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Works with Media companies for interviews and articles such as Howie Mandel for Afib,

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