Workplace Burnout and Mental Health

December 19, 2023   •  Posted in: 

This article discusses the impact of chronic work-related stress on mental health, providing strategies for preventing burnout before it happens and coping with burnout when it does.

What is burnout?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), ‘burn-out’ (sic) is defined as follows:

Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

Three dimensions characterize it:

  1. feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  2. increased mental distance from one’s job, feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, and
  3. reduced professional efficacy.

Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.

World Health Organization, 2019

While it is included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon, burnout is not classified as a medical condition (although, as of 2017[1], nine European countries consider burnout a recognized medical disorder).

So, while burnout may affect mental health, it is not a mental health condition in its own right. Psychologist Wilmar Schaufeli describes[2] burnout as a normal reaction to an abnormal situation, suggesting the term explains the ordinary, not the pathological.

What are the symptoms of burnout?

Some common signs and symptoms of burnout include:

Exhaustion

Feeling physically and emotionally drained, lacking energy even after resting.

Detachment

A sense of cynicism and detachment from work-related activities, colleagues, or clients.

Reduced Performance

Decreased productivity, decreased efficiency, and difficulty concentrating or making decisions.

Emotional Changes

Increased irritability, mood swings, and a sense of hopelessness or helplessness.

Physical Symptoms

Frequent headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and increased susceptibility to illnesses due to a weakened immune system.

Neglecting Personal Needs

Ignoring self-care and personal needs, both in and outside of work.

What causes burnout?

Burnout is often a result of chronic stress that persists over a long period, but it can also be triggered by factors such as:

  • A lack of control over one’s workload
  • Unclear job expectations
  • Insufficient support from supervisors or colleagues
  • A misalignment between personal values and the demands of the job

Acute vs chronic stress

Acute stress refers to short-term stress. Short-term stress arises from immediate and time-limited situations, the impact of which is usually short-lived. You tend to recover from acute stress relatively quickly.

On the other hand, chronic stress is a form of long-term stress that results from prolonged emotional pressure or ongoing duress, often without feeling like you have control to improve your situation.

The endocrine system plays a significant role in chronic stress, releasing corticosteroids, a stress-response hormone, into your body.

In the short term, this hormonal response can help you cope and function during stressful periods. However, continuous exposure to stress can lead to an excessive and ongoing release of these hormones, which can have adverse effects on your health.

Over time, chronic stress can contribute to issues like high blood pressure and, if left unaddressed, even heart disease. Chronic stress can weaken the immune system.

Chronic stress can profoundly impact your mental health. While your body and mind have mechanisms to handle a certain amount of stress, chronic stress strains these systems, like constantly increasing tension on a cord until it eventually breaks.

The stress response is meant to help you recognize and escape danger, but it was not designed to keep you stuck in perpetual stress. Remaining trapped in chronic stress can lead to physical and psychological breakdowns.

Chronic stress can be debilitating, sapping your energy, confidence, and joy. Recognizing and addressing chronic stress is crucial for maintaining overall well-being and preventing its long-term adverse effects on both physical and mental health, especially burnout.

What are the statistics for burnout in the US?

Burnout has become a huge global issue. A diagnosis of burnout has become almost as prevalent as major depression in Swedish healthcare settings, for example, where it currently accounts for more instances of long-term sick leave reimbursement than any other single diagnosis in the country[3].

In the US, research[4] suggests burnout is increasingly prevalent, with the following statistics being reported recently:

  • Since the pandemic, 67% of workers have reported increased stress and burnout.
  • Only 13% of employees believe that burnout has gotten better.
  • Burnout increased significantly by 21% between December 2020 and July 2021.
  • A staggering 83% of Americans experience work-related stress.
  • 40% of respondents find their jobs “extremely stressful,” and for 25%, their job ranks as the top stressor in their lives.
  • Three in five employees report experiencing adverse effects due to work-related stress.
  • The abundance of work-related stress is concerning, as a majority of employees suffer from physical and mental symptoms. The most common symptom is physical fatigue, affecting 44% of employees.
  • Employees also experience cognitive weariness (36%), emotional exhaustion (32%), lack of interest, motivation, or energy (26%), and lack of effort at work (19%).
  • An alarming 79% of workers have experienced work-related stress in the past month, and an overwhelming 57% of US workers feel work-related stress daily.

Which profession has the highest burnout rate?

According to the American Psychological Association, the word ‘burnout’ was first used in this sense in 1975 by US psychologist Herbert J. Freudenberger (1926–1999) in referring to workers in clinics with heavy caseloads.

Burnout is most often observed in professionals who work in service-oriented vocations (e.g., social workers, teachers, correctional officers) and experience chronic high levels of stress.

According to Barry A. Farber’s 1991 research with teachers[5], he proposed three distinct types of burnout:

  1. “Wear out” and “Brown-out”: In these types, individuals give up due to experiencing either an overwhelming amount of stress or receiving too little reward for their efforts.
  2. “Classic/Frenetic Burnout” involves individuals who work harder and harder, attempting to resolve stressful situations or seeking suitable recognition or rewards for their work.
  3. “Underchallenged Burnout”: This category describes individuals facing low-stress levels but finding their work unrewarding.

Farber’s research also revealed that the most idealistic teachers who initially enter the profession with high aspirations and enthusiasm are the most susceptible to experiencing burnout.

Burnout is also experienced by athletes when continually exposed to stress associated with performance without commensurate rewards or rest. In this situation, burnout is known as overtraining syndrome.

Burnout can be particularly acute in therapists or counselors doing trauma work, who feel overwhelmed by the cumulative secondary trauma of witnessing the effects. Similarly, individuals engaged in caring professions, such as ministers, pastors, lay leaders, elders, and ministry leaders, dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to their roles, often leaving little for their well-being and families. Consequently, they may experience burnout and stress, reaching a point where restoration and renewal become essential.

According to recent research[6], other jobs with high burnout rates include physicians (62.8% experiencing burnout symptoms), nurses, retail and fast food workers, police officers, air traffic controllers, emergency response workers, lawyers, and certified public accountants.

What job has the lowest burnout rate?

The same research suggests that geoscientists have the lowest burnout rate (as low as 29%). Other jobs with low burnout rates include dog walking, biomedical engineering, jewelry, hair styling, and massage therapy.

Autism and burnout

Individuals with autism may go through a state of mental, emotional, or physical exhaustion known as “autistic burnout”[7].

This condition is often a result of masking autistic traits and behavior, as well as the stress that comes from living in an environment without proper accommodations.

It is essential to recognize autistic burnout differs from occupational burnout in its underlying causes and how it manifests. Unlike occupational burnout, autistic burnout is not exclusively tied to employment[8] and is often accompanied by heightened sensory sensitivity.

How many people quit because of burnout?

The impact of workplace stress is profound, costing the US economy an average of $300 billion annually. These costs include absenteeism, reduced productivity, and workplace accidents, contributing to significant healthcare expenses of $190 billion annually.
Surprisingly, burnout is the leading cause behind 40% of workers leaving their jobs in the US. This phenomenon has contributed to the increasing popularity of remote work, with 24% of employees believing greater flexibility and improved work-life balance can help prevent burnout.

What is the relationship between remote working and burnout?

Although remote work offers increased flexibility, it doesn’t guarantee immunity to workplace burnout. Remote work presents its own unique set of challenges, as research[9] has revealed:

  • 86% of full-time remote workers have experienced burnout in their current job. Despite the argument for better work-life balance, many remote workers need help setting clear boundaries between work and personal life, which leads to burnout.
  • 76% of remote workers report workplace stress adversely affects their mental health. Surprisingly, this percentage is only slightly higher than the US workforce, indicating that remote workers are just as susceptible to the negative impacts of work-related stress.
  • 48% of remote workers feel a lack of emotional support from their employers. This may stem from a disconnect between managers and staff or a lack of accessible support programs or professionals.
  • The biggest challenge for 40% of remote workers is being unable to unplug from work. Unlike in-office work, where leaving the workplace physically separates work and personal life, remote work blurs those boundaries, making it harder to disconnect and contributing to higher rates of burnout.

So, while remote work offers certain advantages, it doesn’t shield employees from burnout, and addressing the challenges specific to remote work is crucial for maintaining employee well-being and productivity.

What are the best ways to manage burnout?

Burnout can be severe, affecting not only an individual’s job performance but also their relationships, mental health, and overall quality of life. Recognizing the signs of burnout and taking proactive steps to address it is essential.

Some strategies to prevent or cope with burnout include:

1 – Setting boundaries

Establish clear boundaries between work and personal life to avoid constant overexertion.

2 – Seeking support

Talk to friends, family, or colleagues about your feelings and concerns.

3 – Practicing self-care

Engage in activities that promote relaxation, such as exercise, mindfulness, hobbies, or meditation.

4 – Taking breaks

Regularly take breaks during work to recharge and refocus, as well as longer breaks away from work to allow your nervous system to relax.

5 – High-dose vitamin B complex

Some studies[10] have shown the positive impact of high-dose vitamin B complex supplementation in reducing burnout.

6 – Reevaluating priorities

Reflect on your values and long-term goals to ensure they align with your current situation.

Addressing burnout requires a combination of self-awareness, proactive steps, and, sometimes, support from others. By acknowledging the signs and taking appropriate action, individuals can prevent burnout or recover from it effectively.

Seeking professional help

Consider consulting a mental health professional for guidance and support if burnout is severe or persistent.

If you or someone you know is struggling with chronic stress or burnout and finding it challenging to cope, it’s crucial to seek professional help and support. A healthcare provider or mental health professional can offer personalized guidance and treatment options to effectively manage chronic stress and burnout.

Spiritual renewal for those dealing with burnout and stress

At The Center • A Place of HOPE, we are a faith-based treatment facility with extensive experience supporting hundreds of leaders in caring professions. We deeply understand the unique challenges you encounter daily, and our mission is to assist you in finding solace, rejuvenation, and newfound energy. We provide a nurturing environment where you can cleanse your mind and spirit, experience renewal, and rediscover your strength.

Our Spiritual Renewal Program at The Center is unmatched in its discretion and comprehensiveness. It offers a unique and specialized “Pastors & Ministry” track designed for intensive one to two-week and three and four-week tracks.

Led by licensed and ordained specialists dedicated solely to your counseling and treatment, we have extensive experience working with pastors, ministers, church boards, councils, and elders.

To begin your journey toward spiritual renewal, call us today at 1-888-771-5166 to speak with one of our dedicated specialists. The call is entirely free and strictly confidential.

We firmly believe in a whole-person approach, acknowledging the individuality of each person and the impact of their unique life experiences on their current state. By taking the time to understand you deeply, we ensure that your spiritual renewal treatment yields the best possible results.


1. Lastovkova A, Carder M, Rasmussen HM, Sjoberg L, Groene GJ, Sauni R, et al. (April 2018). “Burnout syndrome as an occupational disease in the European Union: an exploratory study.” Industrial Health. 56 (2): 160–165. doi:10.2486/indhealth.2017-0132
2. Schaufeli, Wilmar B. (2017), Neckel, Sighard; Schaffner, Anna Katharina; Wagner, Greta (eds.), “Burnout: A Short Socio-Cultural History”, Burnout, Fatigue, Exhaustion: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on a Modern Affliction, Cham: Springer International Publishing, pp. 105–127, doi:10.1007/978-3-319-52887-8_5
3. Lindsäter E, Svärdman F, Wallert J, Ivanova E, Söderholm A, Fondberg R, Nilsonne G, Cervenka S, Lekander M, Rück C (August 2022). “Exhaustion disorder: a scoping review of research on a recently introduced stress-related diagnosis.” BJPsych Open. 8 (5): e159. doi:10.1192/bjo.2022.559
4. 20+ alarming burnout statistics [2023]: Stress and lack of motivation in the workplace (2023) Zippia. Available at: https://www.zippia.com/advice/burnout-statistics/#:~:text=According%20to%20our%20extensive%20research,program%20to%20help%20alleviate%20burnout.
5. Farber BA (1991). Crisis in education: stress and burnout in the American teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 9781555422714.
6. 20+ alarming burnout statistics [2023]: Stress and lack of motivation in the workplace (2023) Zippia. Available at: https://www.zippia.com/advice/burnout-statistics/#:~:text=According%20to%20our%20extensive%20research,program%20to%20help%20alleviate%20burnout.
7. Arnold, Samuel RC; Higgins, Julianne M; Weise, Janelle; Desai, Aishani; Pellicano, Elizabeth; Trollor, Julian N (2023). “Confirming the nature of autistic burnout.” Autism. doi:10.1177/13623613221147410
8. Higgins, Julianne M; Arnold, Samuel RC; Weise, Janelle; Pellicano, Elizabeth; Trollor, Julian N (2021). “Defining autistic burnout through experts by lived experience: Grounded Delphi method investigating #AutisticBurnout.” Autism. 25 (8): 2356–2369. doi:10.1177/13623613211019858
9. 20+ alarming burnout statistics [2023]: Stress and lack of motivation in the workplace (2023) Zippia. Available at: https://www.zippia.com/advice/burnout-statistics/#:~:text=According%20to%20our%20extensive%20research,program%20to%20help%20alleviate%20burnout.
10. Stough C, Scholey A, Lloyd J, Spong J, Myers S, Downey LA (October 2011). “The effect of 90-day administration of a high dose vitamin B-complex on work stress”. Human Psychopharmacology. 26 (7): 470–476. doi:10.1002/hup.1229

Dr. Gregory Jantz

Pioneering Whole Person Care over thirty years ago, Dr. Gregory Jantz is an innovator in the treatment of mental health. He is a best-selling author of over 45 books, and a go-to media authority on behavioral health afflictions, appearing on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN. Dr. Jantz leads a team of world-class, licensed, and...

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