Evolutionary Roots of Occupational Burnout: Social Rank and Belonging

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Occupational burnout is a globally pandemic public health concern, exerting high costs on organizations, consumers, and workers. Amid definitional debate regarding burnout, psychometric research finds substantial construct overlap with clinical depression. In turn, evolutionary models explaining the adaptive origins of depression bring vital clarity to our conceptions of burnout. Of particular relevance are explanations of depression as an ancient appeasement strategy to avert conflict with higher-ranking group members, or dangerous in-group alliances. These dynamics underlie the relationship between dominance-oriented leadership styles and supervisee burnout, and can serve as leverage points to improve psychological safety, job satisfaction, and, ultimately, workplace productivity. Such models also provide key insights into the relationship between workgroup conflict and burnout, and the mental health problems increasingly identified among remote workers—in particular, difficulties with isolation, and with the constraints of communication technologies. While largely neglected in the organizational literature, the evolutionary sciences offer a pathway to correct mismatches between the environments in which our social instincts evolved, and the modern-day workplace.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)50-70
Number of pages21
JournalAdaptive Human Behavior and Physiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • Burnout
  • Depression
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Leadership
  • Remote work
  • Zoom fatigue

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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