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Millennials and burnout: A guide to finding a way out at any stage

August 24, 2022 - 20 min read

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Who are millennials?

What is burnout?

Millennials in the workforce

Millennials: The resilient generation?

Where does social media fit in?

Millennials and burnout: Taking responsibility

Millennials are stressed out.

As of February 2021, 42% said they were burnt out, giving credence to their nickname of “The Burnout Generation.” 

Some folks are quick to argue that kids born in the 90s never developed the resilience necessary to cope with today’s stressors. Others say millennials suffer from bad timing — they were born into a perfect storm of societal factors.

No matter which theory you believe, it doesn’t change that 44% of millennials say they’re stressed all or most of the time, according to a 2020 Deloitte survey

Here’s what millennials are stressed and anxious about:

  • The welfare of their family (41%)
  • Their long-term financial future (41%)
  • Their career prospects/job precarity (40%)
  • Their day-to-day finances (34%)
  • Climate change (23%)
  • The social/political climate (25%)
  • Personal safety (24%)

It’s hard to pinpoint a single explanation for these millennial burnout statistics. But much of it seems to be rooted in uncertainty about the future. 

Let’s take a closer look at why millennials and burnout are such a common pair.

Who are millennials?

These days, the term “millennial” is a popular synonym for “young people.”

But that’s no longer an accurate descriptor of this generation. These are people who were born between 1981 and 1996 — putting them somewhere between 26 and 41 years old in 2022. This is the group we will be discussing when we talk about millennials and burnout.

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What is burnout?

The World Health Organization defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress.”

But we can expand the definition beyond work. People can experience stress in all areas of their lives — not just work. And if stress is sustained for a long time, individuals may experience signs of burnout.

Burnout occurs when a person has been in “fight or flight” mode for too long. Their veins flood with stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These causes wear and tear on the body, increasing the risk of physical and mental health conditions.

The mental health symptoms of burnout include:

Physical health symptoms of burnout include:

  • Insomnia
  • Blood clots
  • Metabolic changes
  • Lowered immune system
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer

Now let’s dive into why millennials are more likely than other generations to experience burnout.

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Millennials in the workforce

Millennials have a bad rap among older generations. They’re often described as lazy, whiney, self-centered, and shallow. This leads many people to believe that there’s no link between millennials and burnout. However, the numbers don’t support these perceptions.

According to Gallup, the millennial generation and the next generation, Gen Z, comprise nearly half (46%) of the full-time workforce in the U.S. And contrary to the stereotypes, these individuals aren’t lazy. In fact, 73% of millennials work more than 40 hours per week — usually up to 50 hours. 

They’re willing to put in the time, so long as they receive some things in return:

  • Work-life balance. Millennials are starting families, so they want work schedules to help them have a healthy home life. They increasingly want flexible hours and, thanks to the pandemic, the option to work from home.
  • Respect. Millennials respect authority — but only if they earn it. After years of low job prospects, recessions, and unfair criticism, they want managers who treat them as equals rather than subordinates. 
  • Ethical leadership. Millennials largely interpreted the 2008 financial crisis as an avoidable failure of leadership, ethics, and transparency. They want leaders who won’t make similar mistakes.
  • Benefits. Health insurance, dental, and pet insurance are valuable supports that can ease millennial malaise.

The struggle of millennial managers

Millennial managers struggle more with burnout than any other generation. 42% reported workplace tiredness and stress, largely due to the “great resignation” of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As people left their jobs for greener pastures, millennial managers were left footing the bill. This led to overwork as they struggled to fill open positions and balance added responsibilities. They also felt increased stress due to lack of support, unclear communication from leadership, and unmanageable workloads.

Millennials: The resilient generation?

Wondering how millennials became the burnout generation? In her new book, writer Anne Helen Petersen theorizes that millennials’ work behaviors stem from historical context.

These children grew up during back-to-back world-altering events. The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre sparked the longest war in American history. Then, thanks to the housing market collapse of 2008, they graduated from high school into a stagnating economy and middle class.

Today, as many are trying to start their own families, the housing market is all but inaccessible and inflation is on the rise. Not to mention, the pandemic caused record unemployment across the country.

All of this happens against the backdrop of chronic worry about climate change, a politically polarized country, and undue criticism about their work ethic.

Considering these conditions, Petersen argues, it's normal that they might make extra demands at work. It's part of their adaptation to a hostile culture and economy. It also makes sense why these factors could lead to burnout when they don’t get the support their need from their workplaces.

Surviving an unpredictable economy

Millennials have been remarkably financially stable despite a stagnating U.S. economy and copious student loan debt. This is perhaps a sign of financial resiliency. 

Millennials fear that their financial situations will worsen or stagnate over the next year. This leads to extra stress about finances, which can lead them to work harder and end up burnt out. It also makes them a financially prudent bunch:

  • 54% of millennial parents believe they could financially cope if they received an unexpectedly large bill
  • 75% of millennial parents say they can pay all their bills (including credit card and student debt) each month 
  • 54% of millennials can support themselves for up to three months if missing income

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The positive impact of remote work

The pandemic forced many organizations to adopt remote work policies and virtual workspaces — a change that most millennials enjoyed. According to Deloitte:

  • 69% of them said working from home in the future would help relieve stress
  • 54% also said that they would prefer to live outside of urban centers to save on cost-of-living expenses
  • 66% said remote work enabled a better work-life balance
  • 50% found that remote work allowed them to be their authentic selves 
  • 70% said working from home and avoiding commutes would relieve stress

Remote work is particularly beneficial for working mothers, who are three times more likely than fathers to take care of the housework and childcare duties. The flexibility provided by remote work means women with child care needs are 32% less likely to leave their jobs due to burnout.

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Still, despite these benefits, many remote workers report pulling longer days than they did before — and people under 40 are taking the brunt of it. They’re more likely to work weekends and beyond eight hours per day than people over 40. For some additional context, here’s how burnout rates compare among other generations:

  • Millennials (1981 - 1996): 42%
  • Gen Z (1997 - 2012): 34%
  • Gen X (1965 - 1980): 27%
  • Baby boomers (1955 - 1964): 21%

So while remote work offers some reprieve, this doesn’t stop millennials from being the most burnt-out generation today. Flexibility is nice, but remote work might end up making it more difficult for people to disconnect.

Where does social media fit in?

Technology may also influence why millennials are the burnout generation. 

69% of U.S. adults and 81% of teens use platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. As we now know, this puts them at an increased risk of feeling anxious, depressed, or ill.

There are a few potential reasons for this:

1. The “slot machine” effect

Many social media users approach these platforms like a game. They create posts, hoping to receive a dopamine kick from likes and shares on their posts. Their self-esteem is usually intimately wrapped in this activity.

They can see whether their friends receive more “likes,” which invites comparison and self-blame if their post doesn’t perform well.

2. FOMO (Fear of missing out)

Many people may want to pull themselves offline. However, social media users are concerned about missing inside jokes, connections, or event invitations. This fear of exclusion can lead to anxiety and depression.

3. The Highlight Reel

Social media can give users a distorted view of other people’s lives. Whether it’s pictures from a vacation, new job announcements, or carefully-composed selfies, people only share the best versions of themselves.

This can lead to unfair comparisons between individuals. A user will look see their peers’ highlight reels and feel inadequate by comparison.

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4. A front-row seat to disaster

The 24-hour news cycle means people receive constant updates about the world’s most tragic events. Social media only compounds that experience, causing stress thousands of miles away from disaster.

Staying up to date is an important part of being an engaged citizen. But experts recommend scaling back if it’s negatively impacting mental health.

Millennials and burnout: Taking responsibility

Millennials aren’t powerless when it comes to burnout and mental health. They can take several steps to improve their resiliency and prevent burnout:

  • Reducing social media time
  • Making time for rest and self-care
  • Reading less news
  • Setting goals for the future
  • Creating more leisure time

Millennials aren’t the first generation to experience burnout. It can happen to anyone at any point in their lives. 

If you’re struggling with burnout and mental exhaustion, consider working with BetterUp. With the right support, you can become more resilient and take charge of your own life.

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Published August 24, 2022

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

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