10 degrees that lead to the worst burnout from work

burnout from work
Some of the highest-paying jobs could bring high levels of stress and burnout. Source: Franck Fife/AFP

Finding a job that brings us joy and motivation to start the day is something we all dream of, but it’s not always the reality.

Instead, it feels like the opposite is happening, with burnout from work becoming more common — so much so that it is now officially recognised by the World Health Organisation.

Burnout from work is not a medical condition according to WHO but an “occupational phenomenon” and a factor “influencing health status or contact with health services.”

It’s defined as “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” with three dimensions:

  • you feel exhausted or your energy is depleted;
  • you feel growing mental distance from one’s job, negative or cynical related to one’s job; and
  • you feel your professional efficacy reducing.

And it’s not just you and me facing these.

Burnout from work: The defining mental-health issue of our era

From doctors and firefighters to teachers and elite athletes, entire generations are feeling overwhelmed by even the thought of completing what used to be small, straightforward tasks on their to-do lists.

The 2021 Work Trend Index from Microsoft reveals that more than half of the workforce feels overwhelmed with their workload.

Recent research by Microsoft also shows that nearly 50% of employees and 53% of managers admit feeling burned out at work.

Why are so many people always, always annoyed, and always feeling unaccomplished and unappreciated?

There are many answers to this question, which will differ according to who you speak to. Some are obvious, like increased workload and always having to be on call to answer your boss at all hours.

It could also be you’re not being rewarded or compensated enough for what you do or that your colleague gets all the praise but you get all the criticism.

These are all common causes for burnout from work — but there’s another key reason you should be aware of: you chose the wrong degree and job.

job burnout

All smiles when your ideals align with your job. Source: Ethan Miller/AFP

You’re burnout from work because your values don’t match your job

As 20-year-olds, we didn’t foresee the potential for burnout from work when selecting our degrees. We sought degrees that would make us rich and respected,

We were naive and unaware of what truly made us happy or fulfilled. Or if we did, we thought high salaries, a big house and a fancy car would compensate for them.

Now we’re in a situation management coaches call a “values mismatch.” You constantly feel at odds with your company’s ideals and motivations, causing you to want to work and persevere less.

It may not always have been this way. But now you disagree with how your bosses and colleagues are making decisions and investing resources — not just once or twice, but all the time.

You have strongly held values and you’re not budging for them. If this sounds like you, it may be time a change and switch to a place with opportunities more fitting to you and your values.

The good news is a degree doesn’t just limit you to just one job — there are more avenues to pivot to than you think.

The first step is understanding whether your degree and your values match and what causes such high rates of burnout from work.

burnout from work

Nursing can be physically and mentally challenging, which leads to high job burnout rates. Source: Ina Fassbender/AFP

10 degrees that lead to the worst burnout from work

1. Bachelor of Nursing 

Similar to most working in the medical field, nurses earn a high salary, earning around US$93,632 per year. However, nurses suffer from high levels of burnout due to how taxing their jobs can be. 

Registered nurses work long shifts, which can be physically and mentally challenging, having to deal with many patients at once.

They always have to care and be compassionate no matter how much pain and death they witness and with most of the day spent on their feet. 

Little wonder why almost two-thirds (62%) of nurses experience burnout according to a 2020 survey, with 69% of younger nurses reporting burnout.

Alternative careers: Clinical nurse specialist, community nurse, child care specialist, private nurse or social worker.

2. Bachelor of Teaching 

Teachers are responsible for helping their students learn, be inspired and reach their full potential.

This sounds great but it’s a big task to shoulder the duty of educating the future generation.

And you have to deal with this while constantly being on your feet and with a piling workload.

In the US, this has caused 35% of university lecturers to feel burned out.

With 44% of K–12 instructors reporting this, the percentage is higher. Many have even chosen to quit their careers within the first four years. 

Alternative careers: Childcare worker, school counsellor, life coach or writer.

A Chief Marketing Officer like Twitter CMO Leslie Berland may earn an average salary of US$144,012 per year in the US but they are also known to endure high levels of burnout from work. Source: Francois Durand/Getty Images for Twitter/AFP  

3. Bachelor in Sales and Marketing 

The career opportunities with a marketing degree in hand are seemingly endless. 

Marketing graduates can work in just about any industry, as almost every business, organisation, and nonprofits around the world has a marketing team.

Unfortunately, this comes with high pressure and constantly having to meet deadlines. Those in sales tend to work long hours and over weekends and holidays as well. 

Alternative careers: Recruitment consultant, account manager, web developer, event manager or digital copywriter. 

burnout from work

Surgeons face high job burnout levels as they work long hours and are constantly on their feet. Source: Alexis Huguet/AFP

4. Bachelor of Surgery 

Medicine is well-known as one of the, if not the hardest degree in the world. However, it does result in a successful career.

Pursuing a career as a surgeon can lead to big money, earning you around US$208,000 annually.

But surgery is also one of the most stressful careers in the world, as it takes years of studying and training to be qualified. 

The American Medical Association says almost 50% of physicians experience signs of burnout. 

Alternative careers: Ophthalmologist, psychiatrist, pathologist, academic researcher or science writer.

burnout from work

Though a rewarding career, lawyers endure high levels of stress in their careers. Source: Stephane De Sakutin/AFP

5. Bachelor of Law

Although lawyers take home a median salary of US$127,990, they have one of the toughest jobs in the world — thanks to the culture of overworking and having little time for rest and leisure

This, combined with dealing with demanding clients with high expectations and mountains of paperwork, has led to high burnout rates. 

Bloomberg Law’s Attorney Workload and Hours survey found attorneys experience burnout more than half the time and a decline in well-being.

Alternative careers: Paralegal, private investigator, journalist, law professor, judge or detective. 

Social worker Tetyana Lemzyakova babysits Maria (R) at a humanitarian centre in Bakhmut on February 3, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Source: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP

6. Bachelor of Social Work 

Imagine having to listen and respond to other people’s trauma for several hours every day. This can take a toll on someone, mentally and physically. 

As a result, roughly 75% of social workers experience burnout during at least one point in their career.

Alternative careers: Teacher, counsellor, human resource manager, entrepreneur or consultant.

burnout from work

Despite the stress, pilots lead a career of high salary and satisfaction. Source: Mathieu Lewis-Rolland/AFP

7. Bachelor of Aviation

On top of being responsible for the lives of hundreds of passengers, pilots must endure challenges such as weather-related delays, discontented passengers, and loads of jet lag.

Pilot burnout manifests in several ways, including physical and mental exhaustion, decreased job satisfaction, reduced motivation, and difficulty concentrating.

Alternative careers: Flight instructor, aircraft mechanic, air traffic controller or engineer. 

8. Bachelor of Accounting

Accountants can experience high levels of stress and burnout from work due to factors such as heavy workloads, long hours, tight deadlines, pressure to meet client expectations, repetitive tasks, and the need for accuracy.

They need to be accurate all the time.

These factors, combined with the nature of the profession, which often involves dealing with financial data and regulations, can contribute to major burnout from work.

According to a survey conducted by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) in 2019, around 62% of accountants reported feeling extremely stressed during the busy season.

Alternative careers: Banker, financial writer, mathematics teacher or business analyst. 

burnout from work

Working in Wall Street sounds glamorous but many who work here say they suffer from some of the worst burnout from work. Source: Angela Weiss/AFP

9. Bachelor in Finance

A bachelor’s in finance leads to many high-pressure jobs — one, in particular, is a career as a financial service professional.

Financial service professionals work in various sectors of the financial industry, providing a range of services to individuals, businesses, and organisations.

Careers in banking, investment, and financial advising can involve high-pressure work environments, long hours, and the responsibility of managing large amounts of money.

The Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology in 2012 found that professionals in the financial services sector had higher levels of burnout compared to other industries.

There are a number of factors that contribute to the burnout rate of those in this field. This includes:

  • high workload and pressure
  • long working hours
  • performance expectations
  • client demands

Alternative careers: Stockbroker, auditor, business development manager, data analyst or tax associate. 

10. Bachelor of Veterinary Technology

A veterinary technologist is a skilled professional who provides support and assistance to veterinarians in providing medical care to animals.

Veterinary technicians work in various settings, including veterinary clinics, animal hospitals, research facilities, zoos, and shelters.

Veterinary technicians are known to have a higher risk of burnout compared to some other professions due to the nature of their work.

They get emotional stress dealing with animal suffering, euthanasia, and difficult cases and face physical challenges, such as lifting and restraining animals, which can contribute to physical fatigue.

The Journal of Veterinary Medical Education in 2020 reported that 32.9% of veterinary technicians experienced high levels of job burnout.

Alternative careers: Animal trainer, laboratory assistant, wildlife rehabilitator or educator.