Nurse burnout: causes, symptoms, and solutions by gender and generation


Burnout is a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Burnout occurs gradually over time and has three fundamental symptoms:

Exhaustion is feeling physically and emotionally exhausted and can be related to spending an excessive amount of time and effort on a particular task. Depersonalization is having an indifferent attitude and can manifest as negative, sarcastic, or cynical people towards people you are meant to serve. Lack of efficacy is the tendency to feel insufficient or as if your work is not serving a purpose.

Burnout can have significant consequences for nurses. It can impact their ability to provide patients with the best care or drive them to leave the profession. Burnout is common among all nursing professionals, but research has shown that symptoms can vary based on age or gender. By identifying ways different groups of people burn out, we can tailor more effective and earlier interventions.

In men, burnout symptoms typically start with depersonalization and cynicism, which serves as a coping mechanism for overwhelming stress. Blaming patients or having a negative mindset is a response to the stress of working in health care and is only a temporary relief. For women, their burnout symptoms most often begin with emotional exhaustion. Everyone has a finite amount of energy, and women often play caregiver and support roles outside their nursing responsibilities. This can leave women feeling unable to recharge their batteries, resulting in emotional exhaustion.

It’s also important to consider the different ways each generation experiences burnout. According to market research, baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) are optimistic, self-sufficient, confident, and often define themselves by their professions. Baby boomers report having more trouble with technology than other generations and find that dealing with technology like EHRs is a major contributor to their burnout.

Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) tends to be self-sufficient, resourceful, individualistic, and technologically savvy, market research shows. Gen Xers may experience burnout due to a combination of work demands and family responsibilities. Many Gen Xers are mid-career while simultaneously caring for children under 18 and aging parents.

Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) value meaningful motivation, learning, creativity, and social interactions at work, market research finds. They grew up with new technology in a way other generations did not, and are rising in their careers. Millennials value work-life balance and reported spending too many hours at work was a top contributor to burnout.

Generation Z (born between 1997-2012) is the newest generation, just getting started in their nursing career. Challenging the idea that nursing students are ultra-resilient and capable of balancing the pressures of school is an important start to helping prevent burnout before Gen Zers even begin their careers.

Overall, the causes and experiences of burnout can vary greatly depending on a person’s generation and individual circumstances. Understanding how each gender and generation deals with burnout can help organizations develop more effective strategies to battle burnout.

Andrea Coyle is a nurse practitioner.


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