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Updated: Dec 2, 2021

Why some people experience burnout and others don't is complex. Personality certainly plays a part. The traits most likely to contribute to burnout are conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Each trait has a few sub-scales. The nuances of the subscales likely play the biggest role in how susceptible we are to burnout. If you aren't sure what your "Big 5" personality is, you can [take a free test]( The descriptions of the following traits come from that test.


Personality and burnout

Why some people experience burnout and others don't is complex. Personality certainly plays a part. The traits most likely to contribute to burnout are conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Each trait has a few sub-scales. The nuances of the sub-scales likely play the biggest role in how susceptible we are to burnout. If you aren't sure what your "Big 5" personality is, you can [take a free test]( The descriptions of the following traits come from that test.


Conscientiousness concerns the way in which we control, regulate, and direct our impulses.

People who according to "The Big 5" model of personality, are high on the conscientious trait, will expend a lot more energy on tasks than others. Even if they have the same amount of responsibility, they put more into things. This might make them more vulnerable to burnout. However, someone who is high on conscientiousness, might also put a lot of effort and detail into keeping their life balanced. This might reduce the chance of burnout. On the flip-side, people low on conscientiousness likely have more disorganized lives.


Self-Efficacy describes confidence in one's ability to accomplish things. High scorers believe they have the intelligence (common sense), drive, and self-control necessary for achieving success. Low scorers do not feel effective, and may have a sense that they are not in control of their lives.

People low on self-efficacy may experience more burnout since it can lead to procrastination. Procrastination leads to inefficient time use. This leads to being overwhelmed when deadlines are on the horizon. Burnout might occur when people with low self-efficacy cram to get a lot accomplished at once.


Persons with high scores on orderliness are well-organized. They like to live according to routines and schedules. They keep lists and make plans. Low scorers tend to be disorganized and scattered.

Being unorganized can lead to a messy, out-of-control life. Burnout might be just as likely of a possibility for those low on the orderliness scale.


This scale reflects the strength of a person's sense of duty and obligation. Those who score high on this scale have a strong sense of moral obligation. Low scorers find contracts, rules, and regulations overly confining. They are likely to be seen as unreliable or even irresponsible.

People high on dutifulness might experience more burnout because of their sense of obligation. This might make them be more likely to ignore their own needs when being dutiful.


>Individuals who score high on this scale strive hard to achieve excellence. Their drive to be recognized as successful keeps them on track toward their lofty goals. They often have a strong sense of direction in life, but extremely high scores may be too single-minded and obsessed with their work. Low scorers are content to get by with a minimal amount of work, and might be seen by others as lazy.

People high on achievement-striving are obviously more likely to take more on. Being single-minded and obsessed with getting things done can lead to more burnout.


Self-discipline-what many people call will-power-refers to the ability to persist at difficult or unpleasant tasks until they are completed. People who possess high self-discipline are able to overcome reluctance to begin tasks and stay on track despite distractions. Those with low self-discipline procrastinate and show poor follow-through, often failing to complete tasks-even tasks they want very much to complete.

People with low self-discipline might suffer burnout similar to those who are low on orderliness. Those who are low on both might be at a higher risk of burnout compared to someone who is just low in one or the other.


Cautiousness describes the disposition to think through possibilities before acting. High scorers on the Cautiousness scale take their time when making decisions. Low scorers often say or do first thing that comes to mind without deliberating alternatives and the probable consequences of those alternatives.

People higher on cautiousness might be less likely to experience burnout if they are weighing out the consequences of taking on a new project.


Agreeableness reflects individual differences in concern with cooperation and social harmony. Agreeable individuals value getting along with others.

Agreeableness is almost certainly a predictor of burnout. People high in agreeableness have a difficult time saying no. It's easy to see how someone with this personality trait ends up taking on far more than they can and then ends up burning out. People with low agreeableness don't have much of a problem turning people down and so are much less likely to take on more than they can handle.


Altruistic people find helping other people genuinely rewarding. Consequently, they are generally willing to assist those who are in need. Altruistic people find that doing things for others is a form of self-fulfillment rather than self-sacrifice. Low scorers on this scale do not particularly like helping those in need. Requests for help feel like an imposition rather than an opportunity for self-fulfillment.

People high in altruism who also don't have solid boundaries, might experience more burnout if they take on more than they can reasonably do.


Individuals who score high on this scale dislike confrontations. They are perfectly willing to compromise or to deny their own needs in order to get along with others. Those who score low on this scale are more likely to intimidate others to get their way.

People high in cooperation might be more vulnerable to burnout for the same reasons as those high in altruism.


People who score high on this scale are tenderhearted and compassionate. They feel the pain of others vicariously and are easily moved to pity. Low scorers are not affected strongly by human suffering. They pride themselves on making objective judgments based on reason. They are more concerned with truth and impartial justice than with mercy.

People are motivated by emotions. Those who are high in sympathy might also suffer more burnout because of compassion-fatigue. Taking on the emotions of others can definitely produce burnout when self-care and boundaries aren't in place.


Extraversion is marked by pronounced engagement with the external world.


High scorers Assertiveness like to speak out, take charge, and direct the activities of others. They tend to be leaders in groups. Low scorers tend not to talk much and let others control the activities of groups.

People low in assertiveness might find themselves doing things they are asked to do without question or push-back. It's common in work-places for people who don't have a lot of assertiveness to end up getting burned-out.

Activity Level

Active individuals lead fast-paced, busy lives. They move about quickly, energetically, and vigorously, and they are involved in many activities. People who score low on this scale follow a slower and more leisurely, relaxed pace.

It's not surprising that those who are involved in a lot of activities can end up being more susceptible to burnout.


Neuroticism refers to the tendency to experience negative feelings.

Neuroticism is related to how internally turbulent one tends to be. Someone with a lot of anxiety will have a lot more energy sapped. The perfect storm of burnout would be someone who can't say no, puts a lot of effort into things, and is high in anxiety.


The "fight-or-flight" system of the brain of anxious individuals is too easily and too often engaged. Therefore, people who are high in anxiety often feel like something dangerous is about to happen. They may be afraid of specific situations or be just generally fearful. They feel tense, jittery, and nervous. Persons low in Anxiety are generally calm and fearless.

Anxiety saps energy. Anyone who is high on the anxiety scale is going to feel drained more easily. It's very important to have good boundaries and excellent self-care for those high in anxiety to avoid burnout.


Immoderate individuals feel strong cravings and urges that they have boundaries difficulty resisting. They tend to be oriented toward short-term pleasures and rewards rather than long- term consequences. Low scorers do not experience strong, irresistible cravings and consequently do not find themselves tempted to overindulge.

People who are immoderate are more likely to abuse substances. This only makes things worse. Binge drinking to get rid of pressure and stress only kicks the can down the road and the toll on the body makes dealing with pressures even harder in the long run.

How to cope with burnout

If you are high on one or more of the scales above, it's important to really slow down before committing to things. If you can't say no to something, at least try to give yourself extra time, or set the boundaries of what you are agreeing to so that you are less likely to become overwhelmed. It's not realistic to ask people to change their personality, but developing better communication skills to ask for what we need and improving boundary setting is possible.

Learning to take better care of ourselves is also critical. We must cultivate a sense of kindness and duty to ourselves, not just to obligations. Knowing what we need to feel better is critical. Do we recharge from long walks in the woods or watching a movie with a friend? Whatever it is, we need to make time for those things. Our society will always put pressure on us to give of ourselves more than what is realistic. We have to be responsible for own self-care because no one else can do it for us.

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