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Last month, Buzzfeed News had an in-depth piece called How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation. Of course, there was quite a buzz about it, and there was even a quiz that helped you judge how burned out you are! The gist of the article was that Millennials are unable to “adult” and the reason for it is because we’re burned out!
But the idea of millennial burnout is not new. Before this article, in mid- 2018, Gallup even released a study which highlighted that Millennials Are Burning Out faster than other generations, despite being younger. It gave organizations some tips to keep their millennial talent.
Who do we think we are?
Over the course of the month, MANY other generations have opined on this topic. These range from Millennials just don’t want to grow up, to previous generations speaking out about how they are stuck in the middle caring for their Boomer parents, and their Millennial children.
Of course, these opinions are not new, I’ve heard them a lot. We are the generation who’ve traded houses for avocado toasts, and think we’re too good for many things, like canned tuna, diamonds, napkins, and golf! We are the lazy generation, the entitled generation, the generation who throws down bureaucracy.
While all this focus has been on the industries we’re killing, no one asked the question why? We’ve grown up with changes in technology, and a focus on education like never before. More millennials attended college than previous generations but Millennials also exited colleges with higher debt levels than previous generations. We have greater access to flexible work hours. But we’re always at work!
The Grown Up Millennial
Being a millennial I feel extremely passionate and defensive about my generation. I’ve had enough conversations about “millennials” to be completely confused about what we are and what we aren’t. But the bottom line was always that we are in a phase, this too shall pass. We’ll grow up. We’ll start “adulting”. And one day, we will not be overwhelmed by it!
One of these days, we may even pick up the phone and make a call, rather than text.
This has yet to happen, despite the fact that the oldest millennials are 37 and the youngest 22. Neither end of the spectrum apparently has fully embraced any form of becoming an adult.
I’ve had this conversation about burnout with many people. Recently, I was asked if that was the biggest reason that I left my job, the short answer is yes… and the long answer, is a little more complicated. That is why this topic is so near and dear to me!
In my case, I wasn’t at the ‘millennial burnout’ stage yet, but I was definitely getting there. The problem was that I was seeing no end in sight. I was surrounded by coworkers who embraced job security, but dreamed of vacations and leaves. From the beginning of my corporate career, I failed to understand why I only looked forward to weekends and vacations. I wasn’t alone in that, I’m sure of it. Monday Blues are real. There’s an aura or energy in the streets, on busses, in the office, that I wasn’t okay with. The energy was a let down. People were extremely sad, as if something good had been taken from them. We all become Garfield!
Living for the Weekend (or not)!
The minute Monday began, I was back in a rut. I just didn’t see myself living my life for weekends for the rest of my working life.
But weekends were not for time off. Most weekends I was either working, or studying for the next exam. Over the course of my five years of work, I wrote three exams, and countless hours of professional development work.
With millennials switching jobs more often, it was important to continue developing your skills once I was done my very expensive education. There is a constant pressure to continue to develop your skills in the workplace. You’re never truly off, or away from work!
Or if you don’t have a high-pressure job, there’s a good chance you’re a millennial with a side hustle. More millennials than previous generations are taking on side hustles or part-time jobs, whether it’s freelancing, bartending on the weekends, or driving an Uber. Generally, these extra sources of income are not for vacations or early retirements. Many are taking on these side hustles or extra jobs to service debt, or save up to buy a house, have a wedding etc.
It’s not you, it’s me
To an extent, this pressure to continue studying or bettering my skills was not only on extraneous forces. I wanted to do better, I wanted to actively compete in the workforce. That’s what I was trained for. I wanted to be the best in my field, or have the opportunity to find a better job. In order to do that, I had to be good with numbers, with people, with spreadsheets, and with technology. I had to know how to make a deck, and run an efficient meeting, and keep up with things that are happening in the industry. It is an expectation that’s ingrained in you from the moment you enter university/college.
So when there was a weekend where I didn’t have to study or work or learn, yes, I would want to sit in bed, eat take out and watch Netflix, because truly, I was exhausted!
I lasted a good five years, before I took a leap of faith. I’ve talked about it before – I’m part of the lucky few who had the option to revaluate things, explore new options.
When I was in university, we’d hear about this concept of burnout but the topic was around investment bankers who worked 80 hour plus weeks, and left the industry for something else before they were 35. The motivation was that if you set yourself up for that life, and you gave it your 100 percent, you would be rewarded.
You climbed up the corporate ladder and then ended up at a comfortable spot to look down upon. No pain without gain! But there was hope that that seat exists!
High Risk No Reward
As a millennial, you think when you enter the workforce yes, the system is stacked against me, but you can win this thing. All you have to do is optimize, there’s a checklist, you follow it, you’ll win.
And it worked for previous generations. There was a guaranteed reward system in place, do your time and it’ll work out in your favor. You get that house with the white picket fence, retire at 65, and enjoy the rest of your life, travel or however you choose!
Enter the millennial generation: many started working later, in fields outside of their fields of study, bouncing from job to job, with tons of student debt. Those who were able to start working in their fields of study, may not have any student debt. But they have plenty to look forward to: higher levels of competition, have interests, have new experiences, be open to new experiences, be able to play golf, answer emails all the time, higher costs of living, unaffordability in the housing market etc.
I never thought the system was equitable. I knew it was winnable for only a small few. I just believed I could continue to optimize myself to become one of them.Anne Helen Petersen
You painstakingly realize that you’re not done studying, you’re not done hustling. There’s no real winning in this system, just an illusion. Even if you were to have a stable job that pays well, you’re not going to be able to retire at 65. You’re not going to be able to travel when you choose, you’re tied to work. You feel bad asking for time off, because it’s a competitive industry out there. You’ve gone through a system thinking you have to be the best.
It takes money to make money!
For many millennials, the reality is that struggle is a constant, and the problem is that there is no end in sight. We’re not afraid of working harder, but it’s difficult to feel like you’re doing the right thing, when you see that the system is inequitable.
In Toronto, for example, with massive real estate jumps in the last few years, right when many millennials were supposed to be buying homes, most of us can’t afford a real house. There’s a few lucky ones, those that had help from their parents, or those that had good jobs. But even then, many have bought outside their means, because if you wait, you’ll likely be priced out!
My husband and I are lucky enough to own our condo, but that came after both of us having decent jobs, being fairly frugal, and getting out of school with very little debt, selling our souls to the corporate world!
Making money is really for the lucky few trust fund babies like Billy McFarland. Watching the Fyre Fest documentary on Netflix on the weekend infuriated me! Jay-Z and rich kids trying to sell an Instagram worthy party on a beach! It was meant to attract millennials and younger generations, but this was only for those who had money! The vast majority of us do not live our lives as influencers, because we were gifted mansions and cars by our parents. We have to work for our money!
The biggest reason for the burnout that we millennials experience, is for navigating a path of uncertainty in an unwinnable world! It’s like the Hunger Games, where you’re in a competition against the system but are made to think that you’re collaborating; you’re trying to make life on your own terms, but the system with all its resources is stacked against you.
We are criticized for feeling this way. But the reality is, that there are lots of millennials who work hard. They work hard, and feel burned out. Not because we have to work but because of this constant pressure to optimize.
Our generation is being exposed to constant changes in technology; since the most companies have learned that they can run leaner machines. What this has led to is overworked millennials, who have no time to look after their own affairs. For many of us, Netflix is not a form of relaxation, but a form of escape. And a darn good one at that. If I can’t take a , at least I can do this!
The Optimization Disconnect
We’re often criticized for craving convenience in mundane tasks, like ordering food through our phones, or opting to book appointments online rather than picking up the phone. But why shouldn’t we strive for such a world?
We’re right at the forefront of this technical revolution. Google can predict my better than I can, and Elon Musk can send his car into space, but I’m still mopping my own floor. And we’re tired of being told we’re the lazy, entitled generation. If we’re expected to optimize ourselves at work, we just expect better from our everyday tasks!
There’s this constant pressure, to do more things do things fast, better, more efficiently. But why? It’s not because we’ll be able to get up any corporate ladder. But rather because we’ll be able to keep our jobs and what’s left of our sanity.
It took me a while to write this piece, not because I didn’t have enough opinions on the subject, but because it’s hard to write this without sounding like that entitled, complaining millennial.
There are many stories out there, with different types of millennials. As with any generation, there’s different experiences, personality types, motivations that each of us . This is only not the state of all millennials, but this has been my experience in navigating the world.
Leave me a comment to let me know what you think!