Burnout causes

Burnout facts. Burnout causes.

Burnout is a growing problem on an economical and individual level. One in every two physicians and 26 to 46.5% of the intensivists and medical graduates report a high level of burnout [1],[2],[3]. In Finland, 2.4% of people meets the criteria for burnout [4]. Burned out individuals are less productive at work, take more often sick leave, and often experience relationship/family problems [5],[6],[7]. To be able to prevent burnout from developing, it is important to understand what the most common burnout causes are.
How do burnout causes, such as workload, long working hours, work-to-family conflicts, organizational fairness, and genetics contribute to the development of burnout? This article focuses on the burnout causes that have been researched and found to be contributing to the three burnout subscales emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, and lack of professional accomplishment.

At Barends Psychology Practice, treatment for burnout is offered. Go to contact us to schedule a first, free of charge, session. (Depending on your health insurance, treatment may be reimbursed).

Go to:

Burnout causes – genetics

Genetic factors play a role in burnout symptoms; between 30 and 33% of the burnout symptoms can be explained through genetic factors [8],[9]. 67% of the burnout symptoms can be explained through environmental factors [8]. On the subscale emotional exhaustion, 13% of the symptoms could be explained through genetic factors in women, and 30% in men [10],[11]. This does not mean that every person who has a parent or sibling with burnout will also develop burnout, but it does mean that it is more likely to be more sensitive to stressful situations, and that it is important to set healthy boundaries in regards to workload. At the same time, it means that environmental factors are more important when it comes to the development of burnout.

In other words: one of the potential burnout causes can be found in genetics.

Burnout causes – environment

The most important factors contributing to burnout are work related: workload [12], job control, working hours, poor rewards, supervisor leadership style. Personal and family related factors, however, also contribute to burnout, such as major life changing events, family-to-work conflict and work-to-family conflict.

(Advertisement. For more information on burnout causes, continue reading)

Burnout causes – work

    • Workload: a high workload is related to emotional exhaustion[12],[13],[14],[20] which in turn can cause depersonalisation and less professional efficacy [12],[13]. In China, physicians who worked 60+ hours per week or were severely burned out reported more medical mistakes; between 39.6% and 59.5% of physicians reported having made medical mistakes in the past year [13].
    • Working hours: long working hours are related to global burnout, fatigue, [15],[16],[18] and emotional exhaustion [14]. Emotional exhaustion has been associated with the desire to reduce working hours or retire early [16]. Interestingly, reducing working hours is associated with reduced burnout rates, whereas increasing working hours is associated with higher burnout rates [17].
    • Job control: includes the ability of employees to control various aspects of their job. More job control is associated with more personal accomplishment and less emotional exhaustion [19],[21]. Less job control, however, is associated with more emotional exhaustion [19],[20] and less personal accomplishment [19]. Also, less job control leads to more depersonalisation among employees [19],[20].

(Advertisement. For more information about burnout, continue reading).

  • Organizational fairness: refers to trust, openness, and to some extent, managerial support [23]. Reduced perceptions of organizational fairness is linked to burnout [22], emotional exhaustion, and depersonalisation [23]. Focusing on organizational fairness reduces burnout symptoms [23].
  • Work-Family Conflict (WFC): refers to work interfering in family life. WFC has dysfunctional and socially costly effects on general well-being, health, work life, and family life [24]. WFC is associated with burnout [25], emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, and reduced personal accomplishment [26], and burnout symptoms can be reduced through family support [25].

Burnout causes – traumatic experiences

Traumatic experiences and PTSD are strongly associated with burnout [27]. 52% of people on long-term sick leave with burnout were judged to have PTSD with great probability; sexual assault and severe human suffering were associated with burnout [27]. These findings are supported by other studies. In one study inmates reported high scores of burnout and high scores of PTSD after interpersonal violence [28], and in another study, PTSD was associated with the burnout scales emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation [29].

Burnout causes – Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is strongly associated with burnout; 24% of people on long-term sick leave with burnout were judged to have ADHD with great probability [27]. Also, ADHD is associated with emotional exhaustion, a burnout subscale [27]. These findings are supported by a Japanese study where ADHD-like symptoms could increase the risk of developing burnout among pharmacists [30]. However, more research is needed on this matter.

(Advertisement. For more information on burnout causes, continue reading)

In short: according to scientific literature there are quite a few burnout causes to take into consideration. Not only can burnout symptoms partially be explained through genetic factors, but burnout could also be caused by experiencing PTSD or an unhealthy work environment where the employee faces a high workload, less job control, low organizational fairness, and long working hours. ADHD-like symptoms also seem to contribute to the likelihood of developing burnout, but more research is needed to confirm these findings.

Go to:


    • [1] Embriaco, N., Azoulay, E., Barrau, K., Kentish, N., Pochard, F., Loundou, A., & Papazian, L. (2007). High level of burnout in intensivists: prevalence and associated factors. American journal of respiratory and critical care medicine, 175, 686-692.
    • [2] Willcock, S., Daly, M., Tennant, C., & Allard, B. (2004). Burnout and psychiatric morbidity in new medical graduates.
    • [3] Adriaenssens, J., De Gucht, V., & Maes, S. (2015). Determinants and prevalence of burnout in emergency nurses: A systematic review of 25 years of research. International journal of nursing studies, 52, 649-661.
    • [4] Ahola, K., Honkonen, T., Isometsä, E., Kalimo, R., Nykyri, E., Aromaa, A., & Lönnqvist, J. (2005). The relationship between job-related burnout and depressive disorders—results from the Finnish Health 2000 Study. Journal of affective disorders, 88, 55-62.
    • [5] Schaufeli, W. B., Bakker, A. B., & Van Rhenen, W. (2009). How changes in job demands and resources predict burnout, work engagement, and sickness absenteeism. Journal of Organizational Behavior: The International Journal of Industrial, Occupational and Organizational Psychology and Behavior, 30, 893-917.
    • [6] Peterson, U., Demerouti, E., Bergström, G., Åsberg, M., & Nygren, Å. (2008). Work characteristics and sickness absence in burnout and nonburnout groups: A study of Swedish health care workers. International Journal of stress management, 15, 153.
    • [7] Nayeri, N. D., Negarandeh, R., Vaismoradi, M., Ahmadi, F., & Faghihzadeh, S. (2009). Burnout and productivity among Iranian nurses. Nursing & health sciences, 11, 263-270.
    • [8] Blom, V., Bergström, G., Hallsten, L., Bodin, L., & Svedberg, P. (2012). Genetic susceptibility to burnout in a Swedish twin cohort. European journal of epidemiology, 27, 225-231.
    • [9] Mosing, M. A., Butkovic, A., & Ullen, F. (2018). Can flow experiences be protective of work-related depressive symptoms and burnout? A genetically informative approach. Journal of affective disorders, 226, 6-11.

(Advertisement. For more information about burnout, please scroll down).

  • [10] Middeldorp, C. M., Stubbe, J. H., Cath, D. C., & Boomsma, D. I. (2005). Familial clustering in burnout: a twin-family study. Psychological medicine, 35, 113-120.
  • [11] Middeldorp, C. M., Cath, D. C., & Boomsma, D. I. (2006). A twin-family study of the association between employment, burnout and anxious depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, 90, 163-169.
  • [12] Greenglass, E. R., Burke, R. J., & Fiksenbaum, L. (2001). Workload and burnout in nurses. Journal of community & applied social psychology, 11, 211-215.
  • [13] Wen, J., Cheng, Y., Hu, X., Yuan, P., Hao, T., & Shi, Y. (2016). Workload, burnout, and medical mistakes among physicians in China: A cross-sectional study. Bioscience trends, 10, 27-33.
  • [14] Van Droogenbroeck, F., Spruyt, B., & Vanroelen, C. (2014). Burnout among senior teachers: Investigating the role of workload and interpersonal relationships at work. Teaching and Teacher Education, 43, 99-109.
  • [15] Shirom, A., Nirel, N., & Vinokur, A. D. (2010). Work hours and caseload as predictors of physician burnout: the mediating effects by perceived workload and by autonomy. Applied Psychology, 59, 539-565.
  • [16] Grunfeld, E., Whelan, T. J., Zitzelsberger, L., Willan, A. R., Montesanto, B., & Evans, W. K. (2000). Cancer care workers in Ontario: prevalence of burnout, job stress and job satisfaction. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 163, 166-169.
  • [17] Martini, S., Arfken, C. L., & Balon, R. (2006). Comparison of burnout among medical residents before and after the implementation of work hours limits. Academic Psychiatry, 30, 352-355.
  • [18] İlhan, M. N., Durukan, E., Taner, E., Maral, I., & Bumin, M. A. (2008). Burnout and its correlates among nursing staff: questionnaire survey. Journal of advanced nursing, 61, 100-106.
  • [19] Lourel, M., Abdellaoui, S., Chevaleyre, S., Paltrier, M., & Gana, K. (2008). Relationships between psychological job demands, job control and burnout among firefighters. North American Journal of Psychology, 10, 489-496.
  • [20] Salanova, M., Peiró, J. M., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2002). Self-efficacy specificity and burnout among information technology workers: An extension of the job demand-control model. European Journal of work and organizational psychology, 11, 1-25.
  • [21] Hätinen, M., Kinnunen, U., Pekkonen, M., & Kalimo, R. (2007). Comparing two burnout interventions: Perceived job control mediates decreases in burnout. International Journal of Stress Management, 14, 227.
  • [22] Ronen, S., & Mikulincer, M. (2009). Attachment orientations and job burnout: The mediating roles of team cohesion and organizational fairness. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 26, 549-567.
  • [23] Greco, P., Laschinger, H. K. S., & Wong, C. (2006). Leader empowering behaviours, staff nurse empowerment and work engagement/burnout. Nursing Leadership, , 41-56.
  • [24] Allen, T. D., Herst, D. E., Bruck, C. S., & Sutton, M. (2000). Consequences associated with work-to-family conflict: a review and agenda for future research. Journal of occupational health psychology, 5, 278.
  • [25] Rupert, P. A., Stevanovic, P., & Hunley, H. A. (2009). Work-family conflict and burnout among practicing psychologists. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 40, 54.
  • [26] Wang, Y., Chang, Y., Fu, J., & Wang, L. (2012). Work-family conflict and burnout among Chinese female nurses: the mediating effect of psychological capital. BMC public health, 12, 915.
  • [27] Brattberg, G. (2006). PTSD and ADHD: underlying factors in many cases of burnout. Stress and Health: Journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, 22, 305-313.
  • [28] Boudoukha, A. H., Altintas, E., Rusinek, S., Fantini-Hauwel, C., & Hautekeete, M. (2013). Inmates-to-staff assaults, PTSD and burnout: Profiles of risk and vulnerability. Journal of interpersonal violence, 28, 2332-2350.
  • [29] Katsavouni, F., Bebetsos, E., Malliou, P., & Beneka, A. (2015). The relationship between burnout, PTSD symptoms and injuries in firefighters. Occupational medicine, 66, 32-37.
  • [30] Higuchi, Y., Inagaki, M., Koyama, T., Kitamura, Y., Sendo, T., Fujimori, M., … & Yamada, N. (2016). A cross-sectional study of psychological distress, burnout, and the associated risk factors in hospital pharmacists in Japan. BMC public health, 16, 534.