- A recent article from Buzzfeed examined the phenomenon of burnout in the millennial generation, which includes people currently between the ages of 22 and 38.
- The author attributed burnout to millennials’ upbringings, the economic environment they grew up in, and social media, and the anxiety that comes with doing easy, straightforward tasks, like running errands.
- The phenomenon, however, can actually affect anyone, according to Michael Leiter, a professor of organizational psychology who studies burnout.
- Burnout is more likely to occur when someone is going through a major life transition, like entering the working world or nearing the middle of their life, Leiter told INSIDER.
Whether it’s the political landscape, an inadequate work-life balance, or a stressful relationship, a number of experiences can leave us feeling drained of energy on the regular. While things like meditation are said to help prevent burnout, a new article from Buzzfeed ascertains that the concept of burnout is actually an inescapable condition, namely for people who grew up in the millennial generation, and one that doesn’t have a simple fix.
According to the author Anne Helen Petersen, since childhood, millennials have been taught to “self-optimize” every aspect of our lives in order to survive. As a result, we feel consistently drained, jaded, or burnt out. This feeling means simple tasks like doing the laundry or grabbing groceries prove daunting since we spend all of our energy on working.
“It’s the millennial condition,” Petersen wrote. “It’s our base temperature. It’s our background music. It’s the way things are. It’s our lives.”
Millennials were raised to be idealists and optimizers to a fault
Petersen cites a few main contributors to millennial-specific burnout, the first being the way we were raised. From the time we were children, Petersen argues, we were doomed to become burnt out. That’s because our parents raised us, even if unknowingly, to crave structure and “optimization.”
Millennials, for example, had organized play dates instead of time left to run around the neighborhood freely; they had pre-preschool instead of day care. And if that wasn’t the case for a millennial in childhood, they certainly grew to experience these structured practices in high school and college, where classes and extracurricular activities were marketed as opportunities to be better workers and therefore better people.
“Students were convinced that their first job out of college would not only determine their career trajectory, but also their intrinsic value for the rest of their lives,” Petersen wrote. The idea that everything we do must fuel the path to our ideal self-image has permeated millennial culture to a fault, creating a constant sense that we aren’t doing enough. As a result, we are constantly tired or burnt out.
Economic hardships have made it nearly impossible for millennials to achieve the dreams they were raised to strive for
In addition to millennials’ upbringings, the economic environments we grew up and currently live in contribute to burnout, Petersen said.
When college graduate-age millennials experienced the 2008 financial crisis, for example, “more experienced workers and the newly laid-off filled applicant pools for lower- and entry-level jobs once largely reserved for recent graduates,” Petersen wrote. As a result, millennials moved back home, took part-time jobs or gigs with no benefits, or went to graduate school and racked up even more student loan debt.
The economic landscape shifted the types of jobs available as well as the expectations of those jobs, instilling in millennials a need to work hard and often in order to succeed in any capacity, Petersen argued.
“Things that should’ve felt good (leisure, not working) felt bad because I felt guilty for not working; things that should’ve felt “bad” (working all the time) felt good because I was doing what I thought I should and needed to be doing in order to succeed,” she wrote.
Social media and the internet contribute to feelings of inadequacy and burnout
Lastly, Petersen cited social media as a factor that exacerbates burnout in millennials, since this content portrays the lives millennials were taught to strive for but will never achieve. “I find that millennials are far less jealous of objects or belongings on social media than the holistic experiences represented there, the sort of thing that prompts people to comment, I want your life,” she wrote.
Instagram influencers, for example, often depict themselves as the perfect mixture of carefree and successful, when in reality, that is usually far from the truth. Still, these media depictions add to millennials’ dread about not doing enough.
Burnout is highly situational and can happen to anyone from any generation
Petersen’s points suggest burnout is something millennials deal with more than other generations before us, but burnout can actually affect anyone, Michael Leiter, a professor of organizational psychology who studies burnout, told INSIDER.
“It’s very situational,” he told INSIDER. “A person has a certain energy capacity and then they have ideals for what they want to accomplish in life, and they find themselves in situations where those two things are incompatible.” The result is feeling like you’re always behind pace for where your life should be at any given moment, which creates chronic exhaustion, or burnout.
According to Leiter, this can happen throughout a person’s life, regardless of their generation or where they work, but certain time periods can cause burnout more than others. Coming out of college and starting a full-time job or getting to your 50s and realizing you aren’t where you thought you’d be in life are two common times for burnout, Leiter told INSIDER.
He did add, however, that since millennials tend to be more idealistic than older generations, he understands how we may deal with burnout more. What’s more, our reliance on the internet has blurred the lines between work and play, so “people can’t truly recover” when the workday is over, Leiter explained.
To prevent the feeling of constantly running on a metaphorical hamster wheel, Leiter suggests people first determine their threshold for work. “How hard can you push yourself? What are your requirements for rest? Structuring your life in a way that works for you will help [prevent burnout],” he said.
In addition, he thinks people should be honest with themselves about how realistic their goals are. After all, there is a reason ideals are called ideals: they aren’t always going to be accomplished. Instead, focus on the main things you value in life, like quality friendships and a couple of career-related goals. “You have to do the job that you have to do, but you can try to shape it a bit more because [preventing burnout] really means rethinking how work happens.”
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