13 stressful jobs that lead to burnout


Are you hoping to change jobs soon, or maybe even change careers? Maybe money is one of your motivators for changing jobs, or you could be hoping for a career path that you find more fulfilling than your current job.

Either way, you should keep burnout in mind when applying for jobs. Earning all the money in the world won’t make up for the long-term stress common to many jobs.

If you want to switch to one of the following careers, don’t quit your current job until you’re familiar with the demands of your potential new career – and the possibility of burnout.

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1. Nurse

The median salary for registered nurses in the United States is less than $80,000. While that is decent money, it also comes with a lot of responsibility. Registered nurses perform some of the same duties as doctors.

Being a registered nurse can be rewarding, especially for highly motivated individuals who enjoy caring for others. Issues such as staff shortages, exposure to diseases like COVID-19, and the psychological stress of treating patients are causing nurses to burn out quickly.

2. Teacher

Like nurses, teachers do some of the most important jobs in society. Yet teachers are generally at the lower end of the pay scale.

In 2021, the median salary for kindergarten and elementary school teachers was around $61,000. Additionally, about half of all schools in the United States are reporting teacher shortages for the 2022 school year, according to a recent National Center for Education Statistics survey.

The remaining staff are doing more work for no more pay, which only increases the rate of teacher burnout.

3. Construction worker

Whether your construction crew is working on roads, houses, or skyscrapers, you’ll likely have to work in bad weather while occasionally dealing with dangerous working conditions.

Roadwork also means dealing with irresponsible drivers driving through construction zones, which is why construction workers have some of the highest injury rates of any worker in America, according to the federal government.

The median salary for construction workers is less than $38,000 per year. Such low wages and the high possibility of injury are a recipe for worker burnout.

4. Social Worker

Whether you are a clinical social worker caring for those with mental health issues or a family social worker protecting vulnerable children, much of your job requires intense and ongoing emotional labor.

Studies suggest that nearly 40% of current social workers already feel burnt out, and 75% of social workers experience a sense of burnout at some point.

In 2020, social workers earned a median salary of around $50,000, which is nowhere near enough to offset the emotional cost of the day-to-day demands of the job.

5. Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs)

Emergency medical technicians are often the first people on the scene after a catastrophic car accident, fire, or other emergency. It’s rewarding work, especially when you’re able to save someone’s life.

However, paramedics frequently treat death. The constant physical exertion, emotional exhaustion and low median salary of around $37,000 explain why one study found a burnout rate of nearly 50% among paramedics.

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6. Surgeon

Surgeons are proof that money is not enough to prevent burnout. Depending on where you live in the United States and the types of surgeries you perform, you can easily earn $200,000 or more.

Surgeons often work in high-stress situations, and many find it difficult not to bring their work home at the end of the day. This is another profession where studies have found a high burnout rate, as high as 50% for general surgeons.

7. Retail employee

Surveys have found that over 80% of all retail employees currently report high levels of burnout, and it’s no wonder: retail employees bear the brunt of customer frustrations without having the power to solve these problems.

To make matters worse, retail salespeople typically make less than $30,000 a year.

Pro Tip: Try to eliminate your debt so you don’t have to take jobs you don’t like just to pay the bills.

8. Chartered Public Accountant (CPA)

Accounting doesn’t have the same reputation for burnout as medical jobs, teaching, or retail. But life as a CPA isn’t easy, especially during tax season.

CPAs often have to balance the finances of multiple businesses and meet dozens of tax deadlines. The pressure can be immense, especially for junior-level CPAs who are just breaking into the industry.

While CPAs in high-powered industries can earn over six figures, the average is closer to $77,000.

9. Air traffic controller

The median salary for air traffic controllers is around $130,000, but the job can be stressful.

Air traffic controllers are responsible for clearing planes to land and take off, making these workers responsible for hundreds of lives on each flight, which translates to thousands of people per day.

Bad weather and the holiday rush complicate flight schedules and add pressure to an already stressful job.

10. Fast Food Employee

Like retail workers, fast food workers are essential to the economy. But despite being required to deal with angry – or worse, hungry – customers, the pay is low.

A survey found that 52% of fast food workers report burnout, a number that has increased during the pandemic. And with a median salary of around $24,000, fast food workers do a lot of physical and emotional work without much pay.

11. Veterinary Technician

Those who care for animals are among the most passionate workers in any industry. But that passion is also the reason why their work is so emotionally draining.

Veterinary techs often have to put down pets, and their job puts them in contact with the best and worst types of pet owners. Apathy, poor education or poor behavior of an owner can seriously harm the animal.

But unlike doctors, vet techs can’t always step in to protect patients.

12. Public Defenders

Public defenders are paid by the state to defend clients who cannot afford their own legal team. These workers are essential to the American justice system.

However, the public legal system itself is severely underfunded, understaffed and overstretched.

The high-stakes, high-pressure environment and deeply disturbing emotional cases contribute to high rates of secondary trauma among public defenders, according to a study of Wisconsin public defenders.

13. Fireman

Firefighters put their lives on the line every day – that’s the basic requirement for the job. Injuries from smoke inhalation, burns, heavy equipment and collapsed structures make firefighting one of the most dangerous jobs in America.

Additionally, many firefighters are also paramedics, bringing them even closer to death and emotional trauma.

As a result, experts say firefighters often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicide.

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At the end of the line

Some industries and careers cause more stress, anxiety and burnout than others. So, in your quest for the right career, be sure to consider risks such as burnout.

Money is not everything. Choose the career that keeps you from living paycheck to paycheck while allowing you to have the right work-life balance.

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