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Job Burnout: Job Factors That Contribute to Employee Burnout

What Makes Some Jobs More Stressful?

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Updated February 21, 2010

Job Burnout: Job Factors That Contribute to Employee Burnout

Job burnout is becoming increasingly common. ©iStockphoto.com

Burnout can be described as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one's devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results,” and is a stress-related state. (See this article for the symptoms of burnout.) There are several factors that can contribute to burnout, including job-related features, lifestyle factors and personality characteristics. This article focuses on the job-related features that can cause or exacerbate burnout. Some companies and industries have much higher rates of burnout than others. 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 time. 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. (This is part of why nurses have such a high rate of burnout.)
  • 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 just are stressful, 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 Causes Burnout?
Burnout has many causes. They fall into the main categories relating to job structure, lifestyle features, and individual personality characteristics. For more on the causes of burnout, read the following articles:

For some ways to soften the experience of burnout, or help avoid it altogether, see the following resources:

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