13 Stressful Jobs That Lead to Burnout

Before you commit to one of these careers, make sure you understand the risk of burnout.
Updated April 11, 2024
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Are you hoping to switch jobs soon, or maybe even change careers? Maybe money is one of your motivating factors for switching jobs, or you could be hoping for a career path you find more fulfilling than your current work.

Either way, you need to keep burnout in mind as you apply for jobs. Making all the money in the world won’t compensate for the long-term stress common in many jobs. 

If you want to switch into one of the following careers, don’t quit your current job until you’re familiar with your prospective new career’s job requirements — and the possibility of burnout.


Rawpixel.com/Adobe female nurse with a mask putting on gloves

The median salary for registered nurses in the U.S. is under $80,000. While that is decent money, it also comes with a lot of responsibilities. Registered nurses have some of the same duties as doctors.

Being a registered nurse can be rewarding, especially for highly motivated individuals who love taking care of other people. Issues like staffing shortages, exposure to diseases like COVID-19, and the psychological stress of treating patients cause nurses to burn out quickly.


Halfpoint/Adobe small school kids with teacher sitting on the floor in class

Like nurses, teachers perform some of the most important work in society. Yet, teachers generally are on the lower end of the pay scale.

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

The remaining staff is doing more work without more pay, which only increases the rate of teacher burnout.

Construction worker

bannafarsai/Adobe Construction worker on the job site

Whether your construction team works on roads, houses, or skyscrapers, you’ll likely have to work in bad weather while sometimes coping with unsafe working conditions.

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

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

Social worker

Seventyfour/Adobe female social worker talking to difficult teenage girl

Whether you’re a clinical social worker who deals with those who have mental health issues or a family social worker who protects vulnerable kids, a large part of your job requires intense, ongoing emotional labor.

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

In 2020, social workers made a median salary of around $50,000 — not nearly enough to make up for the emotional toll of the job’s daily requirements.

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs)

michaeljung/Adobe paramedic team

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

However, EMTs deal with death on a frequent basis. The constant physical exertion, emotional drain, and low median salary of around $37,000 explain why one study found a nearly 50% rate of burnout among EMTs.


Ratthaphon Bunmi/Adobe male surgeon tying mask at operating room

Surgeons are proof that money isn’t enough to prevent career burnout. Depending on where you live in the U.S. and what types of surgery you perform, you can easily make $200,000 or much more.

Surgeons often work in high-stress situations, and many of them struggle 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.

Retail employee

JacobLund/Adobe supermarket manager giving training to a trainee

Surveys have found that more than 80% of all retail workers currently report high burnout levels, and it’s no wonder: Retail workers shoulder the brunt of customers’ frustrations without having the power to fix such problems.

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

Pro tip: Try to eliminate your debts so you aren’t forced to take jobs you don’t like just to pay the bills.

Certified public accountant (CPAs)

deagreez/Adobe accountant in formal wear sitting at her work place and doing notes

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 finances for 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 make over six figures, the average is closer to $77,000.

Air traffic controller

Maksim Shmeljov/Adobe workplace of the air traffic controllers in the control tower

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

Air traffic controllers are in charge of clearing planes for landing and takeoff, making these workers responsible for hundreds of lives with every flight — which translates to thousands of people a day.

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

Fast-food worker

gumpapa/Adobe fast food cashier in drive thru service wearing hygiene face mask

Like retail workers, fast-food workers are essential to the economy. But although they are required to manage angry — or worse, hangry — customers, pay is low.

One survey found that 52% of fast-food employees report burnout, a number that went up during the pandemic. And with a median wage of around $24,000, fast-food workers do a lot of physical and emotional labor without much compensation.

Veterinary tech

Tyler Olson/Adobe veterinarian doctors examining a dog

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

Veterinary techs often have to put pets down, and their job brings them in contact with both the best and worst types of pet owners. An owner’s apathy, miseducation, or poor behavior can seriously harm the pet. 

But unlike medical doctors, veterinary techs can’t always intervene to protect patients.

Public defenders

Gorodenkoff/Adobe Lawyer in courtroom

Public defenders are paid by the state to defend clients who can’t 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 overwhelmed.

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


luckybusiness/Adobe firefighters successfully completed the firefighting

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

Plus, many firefighters are also paramedics, which brings them into even closer contact with death and emotional trauma.

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

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Bottom line

Nebojsa/Adobe female doctor working on computer at her desk

Some industries and careers cause more stress, anxiety, and burnout than others. So, during your quest for the right career, make sure you take risks like burnout into account.

Money isn’t everything. Choose the career that keeps you from living paycheck to paycheck but still allows you to have the proper balance between work and life.

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Author Details

Michelle Smith Michelle Smith has spent a decade writing for and about small businesses. She specializes in all things finance and has written for publications like G2 and SmallBizDaily. When she's not writing for work at her desk, you can usually find her writing for pleasure near large bodies of water.

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