Understanding Millennial Burnout
It can be argued that burnout is destroying the millennial generation. Millennials have long been the scapegoats of prior generations—either they’re on their phones too much, they're not working hard enough, or they’re spending too much money on brunch. Some would go so far as to say that millennials are “killing everything.”
In particular, older generations are fond of criticizing millennials for demanding a “work-life balance.”
However, millennials should be demanding this work-life balance, because it’s one of the few ways that they can draw society’s attention to the real millennial crisis—burnout.
Contrary to what Boomers might think, millennials aren’t kids anymore—they're somewhere between 22 and 38 years old, and they’re by far the largest contributing group to America’s workforce. In the years to come, they’ll only comprise a greater and greater part of the workforce, so isn’t their health and wellness important if we want to plan for a profitable future?
What is Burnout?
Mayo Clinic describes job burnout as a type of extreme exhaustion which may manifest physically, mentally, or both. Importantly, burnout is more than just being tired all the time. It’s also characterized by a “sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.”
Some millennials may joke that all they do is work, but too many jokes over time may lead to actual belief; burnout isn’t a joke at all, and the amount of overtime millennials work isn’t a personality trait.
The consequences of burnout are much more serious than pressing the snooze button one time too many. Symptoms range from excessive stress and fatigue to high blood pressure, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes. Substantial personality changes may also develop in millennials who have worked themselves to burnout—anger and irritability are among some of the most common symptoms faced by those experiencing burnout.
Finally, there’s a conversation to be had about the association between burnout and substance abuse, too.
More than Work
It’s true that millennials place a huge emphasis on work. Nearly three-quarters of millennials work more than 40 hours each week, nearly a quarter work more than 50, and 12% fully expect to ignore the concept of retirement entirely and work until they die. The popular phrase, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” comes to mind as a dry joke often tossed amongst millennial workrooms. Apparently, they’ll work until they’re dead, too.
The state of burnout today has arguably reached far beyond the work environment, though. For many millennials, burnout has become an unconscious mindset leading to a type of “errand paralysis.”
What does this mean?
It’s a consequence of job burnout that seeps into the daily lives of millennials who find it difficult to complete seemingly simple tasks. Sure, it’s one thing to work overtime every week and not take time out for a vacation, but simple errands such as mailing bills, returning emails, and scheduling a yearly car inspection become insurmountable chores.
But that is what burnout is—rather than a state of over engagement, it’s a state of disengagement, and not one that can be fixed by taking a few days off. Instead, this is something burned within the conscience of millennials as a constant, all-consuming mindset, and it’s having a massive effect on the way that they function in their day-to-day lives.
What Makes Millennials Different?
Why is this happening? There are different theories.
With the beginning of 2019 came an article by Anne Petersen which sparked a number of counter-analyses and discussions from publications across the Web.
In her article, Petersen covers it all. Burnout is a deeper, more intrinsic problem than many millennials realize. She argues that it’s a result of the social, economic, and societal developments (many of which are driven by the rise of technology in our modern world) millennials grew up with.
Despite her claims (and the postulations of others who have joined the discussion), we understand very little overall about how millennials experience burnout differently from other generations, as well as how their specific burnout experiences compare to more general work-related burnout.
The Burnout Non-Believers
Not everyone believes that millennial burnout is a problem, instead convinced that burnout symptoms and claims of exhaustion are little more than veiled laziness. However, critics of the millennial burnout discussion often fail to address the ideas that we, as humans, cannot be in control of the way society has molded us.
Perhaps this is what disturbs millennials and boomers alike—to understand millennial burnout, we must admit that we have less control than we’d like. Sometimes, we must come to terms with the fact that decades of social conditioning have led us to become a particular way, and we must accept the consequences.
A Way Out?
As with all other aspects of this hot burnout discussion, writers and critics have their own opinions about whether or not millennial burnout is something that can be appropriately tackled and subsequently overcome.
Individually, millennials can continue to strive for their work-life balance no matter how much older generations chastise them for it, or they may learn to practice self-care in other ways. Fighting against the stigma associated with asking for help and redefining the meaning of “failure” for new millennials entering the workforce might also do a lot to shift damaging expectations and the perception of what “hard work” really means.
No matter your opinions about the causes of millennial burnout or whether or not you think a solution exists, it’s difficult to deny that this is a problem many young adults face as they traverse the working world and navigate their own mental wellbeing.
It may just be that the first step to solving this dilemma (or at least progressing toward something close to a solution) is to continue encouraging awareness surrounding mental health, work expectations, and the society which shaped millennials (as well as how this same society continues to influence younger generations who may be at risk of suffering the same fate).
Petersen likely said it best: “It’s not a problem I can solve, but it’s a reality I can acknowledge, a paradigm through which I can understand my actions.”
Sometimes, all we need is a bit more understanding.