Everyone has days when they don’t “feel” like working. Maybe it’s due to a lack of motivation to power through another proposal or feeling your patience wear particularly thin with a co-worker you don’t vibe with. Even hardworking, devoted employees can feel cynical toward their work and career path. And workplace nuisances may even lead to burnout.

“Burnout” is a big topic of conversation in social and professional circles today. Psychology Today characterizes burnout as emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion that can lead to cynicism, depression, and lethargy. And these side effects can impact someone’s success in the workplace, leading to a loss of meaning or identity in relation to one’s work. 

To learn about the prevalence and causes of burnout across multiple demographics, we surveyed 928 current employees using the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) questionnaire about their workplace experiences

Read on to see what we found. 

Burnout Basics

Using the MBI questionnaire, we rated respondents’ answers on a “burnout” scale ranging from 0 (no burnout) to 100 (the highest level of burnout possible). What we found was shocking: Nearly 3 in 4 respondents said they’ve experienced burnout before. This represents a significant portion of our respondents, warranting more attention to the issue. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) identified burnout as an occupational phenomenon in May of 2019, saying it was not a medical condition but rather a syndrome manifesting negative mental and physical issues relating to the workplace. 

When considering how different generations experience burnout, younger generations tend to feel the brunt of fatigue. While over 67% of baby boomers scored below the median, nearly the same percentage of millennials (61%) scored above the median. With that many millennials at a higher probability of experiencing burnout, it’s no wonder they’ve been dubbed “the burnout generation.” 

Associated Symptoms

While the symptoms related to burnout can be similar to stress or clinical mental health conditions, it’s a totally different ballgame. When writing for Forbes, Paula Davis-Laack said burnout is a chronic process that simmers over a period of time as stress mounts and builds. 

When we compared common symptoms of burnout with the respondents’ burnout scores, we found that job disillusionment was the symptom associated with the highest average burnout score (67), even though it was only experienced by 29.5% of employees in the past year. Since an employee who is more negative at work than usual can often be easy to pick up on, this might be a strong signal to employers that a worker may be experiencing burnout and need help. 

Employees and employers shouldn’t discount physical symptoms, though. Employees experiencing unexplained headaches and stomach problems reported average burnout scores over 60. These pains can become too much to bear, shown through nearly 74% of respondents who admitted that they would consider quitting before they let burnout symptoms persist.

Burnout Across Demographics

When looking at burnout across various ages, genders, experiences, and work locations, some trends emerge.

Male, remote, entry-level workers in their 20s appeared to be the most likely candidates to experience burnout, but scores were relatively consistent across the board. 

However, younger workers were more likely to feel burnout than older employees, with employees in their 20s reporting an average burnout score of 60, compared to just 39 for those aged 50 and older. Millennials have been hurt by extremely high expectations to succeed, leading to more of these employees being hit with burnout symptoms. 

Another group hit particularly hard by burnout are remote workers. While many people may view working remotely as the ultimate setup, it isn’t necessarily an easy ride. It’s not uncommon for remote employees to work harder to make sure it doesn’t look like they’re taking advantage of their flexibility. Additionally, remote work might be prescribed as a potential cure for burnout. However, that can backfire and potentially exacerbate and increase the chances of burnout

Detrimental Work Habits

If unhealthy habits plague your workday, you might be at a higher risk for burnout. The habit with the highest average burnout score was feeling out of control with tasks and workload. Many of us have experienced the maddening spiral of more and more work piling up and not being able to control it. Keeping an up-to-date schedule and implementing organizational habits can help control this spiral and keep you feeling in control. 

Respondents who reported either regularly eating lunch at their desk or skipping lunch altogether had some of the highest average burnout scores. 

There can be days when it seems better to skip that lunch break and graze at your desk to finish a project, but it can actually be counterproductive. The American Psychological Association says taking brief personal breaks throughout the day, and making the most of them, can help to reduce stress drastically. Take a walk, eat a snack, chat with a friend, or take a few moments for shut-eye; whatever you choose to do, make it time for you

Burnout Conversations at Work

Nearly 30% of employees said they were not at all likely to tell their boss if they experienced burnout, and those in entry-level positions were twice as likely to fall into this category. 

In 2018, Yale University conducted a study that found nearly 1 in 5 employees fit into a group of workers dubbed “highly engaged-exhausted,” a group likely to be functional while dealing with burnout symptoms. While it might be easier to repress these feelings, they may lead even the most productive and engaged worker right to exhaustion.

The Yale study concluded that the most effective way to fight burnout is to bring employers and employees to the table. The Association for Talent Development suggests cultivating a work environment that enables employees to thrive by helping them understand their worth to the company, being clear about job responsibilities, and creating realistic workload expectations. 

Conclusion 

Burnout can happen to anyone, and once it’s arrived, it might seem like there’s no way out. While stress can be managed, and all jobs come with highs and lows, sometimes taking a vacation or talking to your boss isn’t enough. If you think you need to change things up at work, The Interview Guys can help. From preparing for an interview to landing a new job, you’ll find plenty of resources to help make the transition as stress-free as possible. 

Methodology

We surveyed 928 current employees about their perceptions of burnout while also trying to assess their current level of burnout. Respondents were 51.9% women and 48.1% men. The average age of respondents was 38.7 with a standard deviation of 11.7. 

All respondents completed the Maslach Burnout Inventory, a tool used for assessing potential burnout. Respondents each received a “burnout score.” The scores were then scaled using a normal cumulative distribution function. The burnout scores presented throughout the project are percentiles of the average scores of respondents giving each response. For example, a score of 56 out of 100 indicates an average burnout score in the 56th percentile.

Respondents were shown a list of symptoms related to burnout (respondents were not told they were associated with burnout) and asked which, if any, they’d experienced in the past year. They were able to select all options that applied to them, so percentages will not add to 100 for that data.

Parts of this project look at data breakdowns by generation. Respondents were given the following options for generation:

  • Greatest Generation (Born 1927 or earlier)
  • Silent Generation (Born 1928 to 1945)
  • Baby Boomers (Born 1946 to 1964)
  • Generation X (Born 1965 to 1980)
  • Millennials (Born 1981 to 1997)
  • Generation Z (Born 1998 to 2017)

The greatest generation, silent generation, and Generation Z were excluded from our final visualization of the data due to low sample sizes in those groups. 

Limitations

The data presented in this project rely on self-reporting. Some common issues with self-reported data include selective memory, attribution, exaggeration, and telescoping. For example, when answering questions about potential burnout symptoms people experienced in the last year, it’s possible they selectively remembered a few instances that fit the question, rather than answering based on the entire breadth of their experiences. 

Fair Use Statement

While it still may not be recognized as a medical diagnosis, burnout is a serious condition that should be monitored and treated when detected. If you or someone you know could benefit from the information in this study, you are free to share it for any noncommercial reuse. We simply ask that you link back to the study so that people can view our findings in their entirety. It also gives credit to our contributors for their efforts.