What is your career risk for burnout?  Does burnout sear your business with high costs?  If you're feeling burned out — or if you suspect your co-worker is — check out the stats in this week's sneak preview to find out how common burnout is in your line of work, as well as an overview of the financial costs of burnout. This preview combines two sections of Chapter 1:

Four surgeons, looking down, in an OR setting.Do You Work in a High-Risk Career?

Burnout is probably found in the highest concentrations in the human service professions, otherwise known as the “helper” professions, including nurses and other medical practitioners, teachers, social workers, lawyers, clergy members, police officers and other professions that deal with assisting the public. There are more studies of burnout in the medical field, social work and teaching than in many other fields. Lawyers and clergy have been the subjects of studies as well.

However, because research on burnout in many other fields is expanding every year, we can say with confidence that burnout shows up in most every field of human endeavor. If you’d like some statistics, here they are:

The “Helping” Professionals

Doctors.  One 2015 survey reported that on a “typical day” 88% of doctors admit to being “moderately to severely stressed and/or burned out.” Most studies show more like 30% to 65% of physicians (depending on specialty) suffer from burnout. Other surveys show those percentages keep rising, year over year. The level of physician burnout is increasing as well: in 2015, 66% of physicians felt more stressed / burned out than in 2011.

Nurses. About one-third of all nurses feel burned out.

Mental health workers. 21% to 67% may be experiencing high levels of burnout, with community social workers at highest risk, compared to nurses and psychiatrists.

Teachers. One study in the early 1990’s reported 5% to 20% of all American teachers are burned out (depending on the method of assessment.)  In 2009, another study found 41% of the teachers (in this admittedly small study) were burned out.

Parish-based clergy. Burnout prevalence rates vary: three different reports gave clergy a burnout rate of 18% to 46%.  Even the lowest rate suggests nearly one in five clergy who serve the public are struggling with burnout.

Other Professionals

A sample of 154 mining accident investigators averaged a “moderate” level of burnout.   (The authors emphasized that we should not confuse a “moderate” burnout score with a “middling” level of burnout; such a score is in fact more severe than just “middling.”)

Law enforcement officers.  Answering on a specialized burnout scale created for their profession, where a score of 5 indicated the highest level of burnout, law enforcement officers averaged a score of 4.35 in agencies serving towns of less than 100,000 people. Interestingly, burnout appeared to be somewhat less intense for officers in agencies serving more than 250,000 people: they averaged a score of 3.80.

Customer Service

Medical front office staff workers. One survey showed 68% suffer from burnout.

Front line hotel workers. A study showed 15% scored moderate or high levels for burnout.

Hotel middle-managers saw a 32% increase in burnout prevalence between 1989 and 1999. (We feel more recent data on this field of work would be very welcome!)

Grocery workers. A study of frontline grocery workers (such as baggers and shelf-stockers) showed burnout was the principal reason for high turnover in this industry. The study authors felt the results of this study suggest that simple efforts to provide motivational slogans or improve low wage structures might not be targeting the real basis of high turnover.

Knowledge Workers

Office Workers. Overall, one survey found 40% of office workers feel burned out. Another study, looking specifically at information technology (IT) professionals, found a shocking 100% of this group felt “low personal efficacy” (the third dimension of burnout, as we will discuss in Chapter 2.)

Bankers and financial services workers. 48% reported being “partially” burned out, 13% reported “total” burnout.

Newspaper Journalists. One fairly recent study for this industry found “burnout on the rise.”   The most at-risk appear to be young copy editors or page designers working at small newspapers.

Beyond the Individual: the Business Costs of Burnout

There is a financial incentive for employers to be supportive of their employee’s efforts to deal with burnout. Stress and burnout are the source of huge costs to businesses. In 1987, a still widely-used management textbook estimated that American businesses collectively lose $300 billion each year to stress and burnout. In a 2013 report, EU-OSHA updated global estimated losses by region, which increased the US estimate to a collective business loss of $402 billion each year. Yeah, that’s billion with a B.

Where does all this financial business loss come from? Decreased productivity is perhaps the most obvious way that burnout is costly. There are many others:

  • Decreased productivity
  • Staff turnover
  • Dysfunctional interpersonal behavior
  • Poor customer service
  • Absenteeism
  • Presenteeism (working while sick)
  • Sick leave
  • Errors
  • Accidents
  • Injuries
  • Rises in health insurance premiums
  • Legal costs
  • Disability
  • Workplace violence
  • Depression
  • Alcoholism and drug abuse
  • Sadly, even suicide can sometimes be traced to burnout.

Addressing these business and personal “symptoms” individually, while failing to acknowledge burnout as a potential root cause of all of them, can lead to additional costs in wasted effort and misplaced focus. It is time to unmask burnout and face it square-on.

© 2017, Marnie Loomis and Beth Genly

Beth Genly co-authored (with Dr. Marnie Loomis, ND) the new book, “Save Yourself from Burnout: A System to Get Your Life Back.”