When You Hate Your Job: Occupational Burnout

30.06.2021 |

Episode #4 of the course Life in the time of burnout by Dr. Kimberlee Bethany Bonura


Burnout at work is common. In fact, 51% of workers, and 77% of professional workers, have experienced occupational burnout at some point. [1]

Two key reasons why you may feel burnout at work are if (1) you don’t feel like you have a sense of control over the work you do (maybe you have a micromanaging boss, or maybe you are understaffed and lacking clear objectives), or (2) you are lacking a sense of personal connection to your work. Feeling like your work matters helps you feel like you matter, which is key for feeling valued, competent, and effective. When you’re doing work that doesn’t feel valued, you don’t feel valued, and you are at risk of burning out.

The Job Demand – Control Model says that there is a relationship between how much your job demands of you, how much control you feel in your work, and how you feel overall. In other words, if your job has high demands, and you have little control, then you have a high-strain position which leaves you feeling pretty low. And if you have a high-demand job, with little control, and little social support – well, then you feel even lower. Having opportunities for social support and connection, being given the opportunity to feel like you have some control over your work and its demands, all can improve your sense of occupational well-being. [2]

You may also have burnout from work because you are, quite simply, working too much. The World Health Organization has declared – based on significant research – that working more than 55 hours per week is a health hazard. Consistently working these kinds of long hours increases your risk for heart attack and stroke. [3] It’s important to figure out whether you can make adjustments to your work schedule to keep your hours more manageable, so that you have time for rest and social connection. If you’re making an argument to your employer, it’s worth pointing out research that shows working less hours can actually increase productivity. For instance, a New Zealand company found that moving to a four-day workweek increased productivity and supported employee well-being. [4]

If your employer is not on board with you working less time, you might consider seeking other employment, even switching career fields, to prioritize your long-term well-being. [5] If you’re not in a space to currently switch jobs, find ways to make your existing job more manageable. Focus on the tasks that excite you. Set specific times of day to check email and deal with online tasks. Research indicates that after a minor distraction (like checking email) it can take 20 minutes to regain your focus. So just setting limits on what you do, and when you do it, can help you reduce your daily work time and workload. [6]

It’s also worth remembering that feeling good about what you do doesn’t mean you always feel happy. Research indicates that when people are focused on increasing competency, they might feel stressed by the challenge at the moment, but they feel increased happiness overall. [7] So it’s important, when considering your work stress, if you are feeling stressed right now (which can be a good thing), or always stressed and approaching burnout.

For today, spend some time thinking about the time you spend at work, and the nature of your work stress. How many hours are you working a day, and a week? Can you reduce your daily working time by reducing distractions and improving efficiencies? And at the end of the week, do you feel good about the challenges you’ve completed and the work you’ve done, or do you feel the tell-tale exhaustion, cynicism, and sense of incompetence that indicate you really are experiencing burnout?



[1] Even under the Best Circumstances, Burnout Is Widespread

[2] The Job Demand-Control (-Support) Model and Psychological Well-Being: A Review of 20 Years of Empirical Research

[3] Long Working Hours Increasing Deaths from Heart Disease and Stroke: WHO, ILO

[4] 4 Day Week Global

[5] ‘A Career Change Saved My Life’: The People Who Built Better Lives after Burnout

[6] The Cost of Continuously Checking Email

[7] No Pain, No Gain: Mastering a Skill Makes Us Stressed in the Moment, Happy Long Term


Share with friends