Millennials (people born between 1981 and 1996) are more prone to burnout than an earlier generation. So much so that they are being called “the burnout generation.” However, according to a BBC article, resilience, a commonly proposed trait, doesn’t work.
According to the BBC feature, which quotes BuzzFeed writer Anne Helen Petersen, many of the factors contributing to this burnout spring from the challenging job and economic conditions that millennials face. Petersen also describes “intensive parenting” as a contributing factor because millennials have been relentlessly trained and prepared for the workplace by their parents. They have internalized the idea that they need to be working all the time or engaging in the never-ending pursuit of self-optimization.
Millennial burnout shares similarities with regular burnout, otherwise known as work burnout. Burnout is a response to prolonged stress and typically involves emotional exhaustion, cynicism or detachment, and feeling ineffective. The six main risk factors for work burnout are having an overwhelming workload, limited control, unrewarding work, unfair work, work that conflicts with values and a lack of community in the workplace.
People who have to navigate complex, contradictory and sometimes hostile environments are vulnerable to burnout. If millennials are found to be suffering higher levels of burnout, this might indicate that they face more problematic environments. It is quite possibly the same stuff that stresses everyone, but it is occurring in new, unexpected or greater ways for millennials, and we have missed this trend.
For example, we know that traditional social comparison plays a role in work burnout. For millennials, social competition and comparison are continually reinforced online, and engaging with this has already been shown to be associated with depressive symptoms in young people.
Even if the millennials avoid social media, using technology and going online can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Excessive Internet use has been linked to burnout at school. These are just some of the ways that millennials have been increasingly exposed to the same stress-inducers that we know can negatively affect people in the workplace.
A recent approach to tackling work burnout is to train people to be more resilient. This is underpinned by the assumption that highly competent people can improve their working practices to avoid burnout. However, highly competent, psychologically healthy and seemingly resilient people are likely to face an increased risk of burnout.