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I Am Burnt Out But My Colleague Is Thriving – The Influence Of Personality On Burnout

Neela Pirwitz, is a Jay Shetty certified burnout-prevention and well-being coach. She studied psychology and is now working for an international organization. Based in the Netherlands and coaching globally, she is working with professionals who want to become more efficient in how they work, create a better work-life balance, or restructure their routines and habits to prevent burnout.

 
Executive Contributor Neela Pirwitz

Personality can have an impact on how stressed we feel in specific situations. Hence, it can make some people more prone to burnout than others. Especially people with high levels of neuroticism are more likely to experience burnout. Awareness of our specific personality traits allows us to counteract the possible development of burnout.


Woman wearing headset feeling unhappy working in office

Imagine you are in the office, working on the latest project. You and your team are due to present your progress to your manager and you are getting more stressed with every hour going by.


There’s still so much to do! But for some reason, the rest of the team seems no more stressed than usual. You are starting to wonder if you are finally losing it. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. And you are most likely not losing it either. The difference in stress might be just perceived, meaning that your colleagues are much more stressed than they seem. Or, you have different personalities. Some people need a lot of reassurance, structure and predictability in their jobs, while others thrive through change and spontaneity and are comfortable just winging it. These workplace behaviour differences can be confusing and might leave us wondering why we don’t react the same way as our colleagues. We might even wonder if we’re in the wrong for being so stressed, or if they are in the wrong for not being stressed enough. However, there is no right or wrong. Rather, we all have different personality types, some being more prone to stress, and therefore burnout, than others.

 

How do personalities differ?

The most commonly used personality framework in psychology is called OCEAN. This framework takes into account five different traits, which appear as a spectrum. Hence you can have more or less of a certain trait, or be fairly in the middle. Depending on where we fall on each spectrum, our personality varies from another person’s. This also explains why we react differently to certain situations.


The five traits used in OCEAN are:


  • Openness to experience

  • Conscientiousness

  • Extroversion

  • Agreeableness

  • Neuroticism


Research shows, that individuals with high scores on openness to experience have reduced chances of experiencing burnout. This might be due to these people actively looking for new opportunities and taking initiative in, for example, projects.

 

Regarding conscientiousness, the research is inconclusive. Some research finds that conscientiousness helps prevent burnout, as conscientious individuals can create structure in their work and work environment. Other research concludes, that high levels of conscientiousness make it more likely for someone to experience burnout. This could be due to the person's deepened care for the job.

 

Moreover, it is shown that extroverts need more support from coworkers than introverts to avoid emotional exhaustion. Hence, it would be important for extroverts to be well-connected at work. Nevertheless, extraversion can make burnout less likely.

 

It is also shown, that agreeableness can reduce the likelihood of experiencing burnout. This might be due to the person being involved in less conflict, than they would be if they were less agreeable. Hence, it could be easier to collaborate at work, which could lead to reduced stress and therefore a reduced risk of burnout.


Neuroticism seems to be the most important predictor of burnout. The higher someone's level of neuroticism is, the more prone they are to burnout. Neuroticism influences all three dimensions of burnout. High levels of neuroticism are linked to greater emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation while leading to lower levels of accomplishment.

 

Preventing burnout based on personality

You might wonder what you can do to prevent burnout in a targeted way, or how you can actively use personality traits related to a lower risk of burnout to your advantage. Here are some examples:

 

If you are high on openness to experience

Scoring high on openness to experience can give you a head start when preventing burnout. To keep this up, here are some tips on what you can do to remain open. You might want to actively look for personal or professional development opportunities in your company. If there are none, where might you be able to find some? How can your company contribute to you being able to follow them? You might also remain open to taking on responsibilities that you have little experience with. This will allow you to develop a new skill and keep the job interesting. Lastly, you might want to stay open to connecting with your colleagues. Who can you meet who is not a part of your team but might still be an interesting person?

 

If you are high on conscientiousness

If you are a very conscientious person, you probably want to do your work very well. You are attentive to details, want to stick to deadlines and want to meet expectations. This is a great quality to have, especially in the workplace. However, it might also lead to you not taking breaks or your PTO and you working a lot of overtime. Hence stress levels might increase, and burnout could be a consequence. Since breaks are essential to stay productive, you might want to consider planning your breaks in advance. This way, you are less likely to make up excuses to continue working through lunch and can allow yourself to take a screen break while grabbing a coffee. You might also plan the exact tasks you will complete that day. This way you will have a feeling of achievement and completion when you finish your list and can allow yourself to stop working for the day without feeling guilty.

 

If you are high on extroversion

Extroversion is a great trait to have when it comes to preventing burnout. However, as mentioned above, extroverts need more support from their co-workers than introverts. Therefore, it is a good idea to stay connected. As an extrovert, you are probably already doing this, but it is helpful to build connections with your co-workers, so they can uplift you when you are feeling stressed.

How about inviting someone on your team to take the next coffee break with you?

 

If you are high on agreeableness

According to the research, agreeableness is a preventing factor of burnout. However, if you have high levels of agreeableness, you might also tend to people-please. It might be difficult for you to say ‘no’ to requests your boss or co-worker makes, and you may take on much more work than you can handle. To counteract this, and keep the advantage agreeableness brings you in burnout prevention, you need to understand what your own needs are, and then try to meet them by setting boundaries. By making yourself aware of how demanding your workload is, you can create a realistic understanding of how much more you can take on. This will allow you to actively say ‘no’ to new projects, and help you ensure you have enough free time to recover.

 

If you are high on neuroticism

If you are experiencing high levels of neuroticism, you might suffer from overthinking, racing thoughts or imagining worst-case scenarios. All of these can increase stress levels. To calm your mind, you might want to try mindfulness exercises, like meditation or breathwork. This can help calm down your nervous system, and allow you to have a calmer mind throughout the day. Hence, you might be less stressed when the next presentation is coming up.

 

Remember, there is no better or worse personality. Everyone is different, and being high or low in a certain trait can have advantages and disadvantages. However, it is useful to understand your personality type to know what you are working with. This is true for general social reasons, like getting along with those around you and understanding your behaviour, and for work-related reasons, to help create a healthy work-life balance and having an extra angle through which you can work to prevent burnout. Don’t forget that someone else perceiving a situation differently doesn’t mean you are wrong. Instead, focus on yourself, and your perception, and know what to do, to make yourself feel better.


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Neela Pirwitz, Performance and Well-Being Coach

Neela Pirwitz, is a Jay Shetty certified burnout-prevention and well-being coach. She studied psychology and is now working for an international organization. Based in the Netherlands and coaching globally, she is working with professionals who want to become more efficient in how they work, create a better work-life balance, or restructure their routines and habits to prevent burnout. Neela’s mission is to help her clients to fit their work into their life, rather than life into their work.

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