Hello Workwell

How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation, a Response

MindAlyssa Davis
Photo by Pim Chu on Unsplash

Photo by Pim Chu on Unsplash

"Burnout and the behaviors and weight that accompany it aren’t, in fact, something we can cure by going on vacation. It’s not limited to workers in acutely high-stress environments. And it’s not a temporary affliction: It’s the millennial condition. It’s our base temperature. It’s our background music. It’s the way things are. It’s our lives.” – Anne Helen Petersen, Buzzfeed

The Millennial Condition

You may have read an article circulating this weekend on millennial burnout and the constant need to be working while never really having an end in sight. If you haven’t read it, you need to add that to your to-do list of “things to be done that will really never get done till a much later date and even then it’ll seem like a daunting task” list. Yes, we all have one. If you read the article, you’d know that. If you didn’t read the article, you’d still know that since you’re mentally running through yours right now.

That list, with all those endless duties, unfinished projects, and tiresome undertakings, is full of things that won’t really benefit you in the long run. Buzzfeed’s “How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation” author Anne Helen Peterson writes, “…when it came to the mundane, the medium priority, the stuff that wouldn’t make my job easier or my work better, I avoided it.” Peterson describes them as “high-effort, low-reward” tasks, only further emphasized by what she describes as millennial burnout – we’ll get to that.

So what do we do about this task list?

Download an app? Perhaps. Bullet journal? Maybe. Busy ourselves with the next latest trend or way to “better ourselves”? We could. All of those solutions, in and of themselves, are beneficial. We at Hello Workwell have tried all of them. But these fixes, when coupled with burnout, become one more thing to do, one more task to cross off and can make things worse, not better.

Researchers at York University found that procrastination oftentimes stems from a fear of disapproval. They discovered a strong link between procrastination and perfectionism, both of which have a significant correlation with parental criticism and high parental expectations. Mom, dad – I love you. Mom, dad – I’m also not at the job I’d thought I’d be at at age 18, and yes, I have put off selling my car, for the twelfth month this year. So we put off these tasks because (a) we have such high societal expectations that not doing the tasks seems better than actually doing them and failing and (b) we are so burnt out from the feeling of constantly being on the clock that extra tasks seem like exertion that we just don’t have the mental capacity left for.

So we come to the burnout Petersen so eloquently describes. We are never not working. Not truly. We always feel like there’s more we could be doing, should be doing. It’s my friend who’s up at 4 am and in bed by 11 so she can afford to go to yoga class and shop healthy and still struggle to pay off her student loans. Or my friend that works 60 hour weeks and is looking to add a third job to the mix for “play cash” – as if there’s time for play when you’re working so much. Or my friend who puts their laptop away to stop working for the night, only to pull out their phone and answer work emails while browsing Netflix. And I envy these friends of mine. Because we glorify the grind, the hustle. Nothing worth having comes easy, right?

This millennial status quo is unsustainable. So again, what do we do?

For starters, hit the hay. We say it about once a week here at Hello Workwell because it’s just that important. However, if you’re anything like me, you have every good intention to go to bed early and then you remember that you “just have one thing to do” which will “only take about four minutes” and then which inevitably takes about four hours. Next thing you know it’s 2 am and you’re passing out just in time to hit the snooze button in 5 hours. The average American logs 6.1 hours of sleep per night. This is a whole hour less than the nation's average in the ‘70s. We’re running on an ever-increasing sleep deficit. Lack of sleep leads to burnout. Burnout leads to more tasks on the to-do list. The to-do list leads to more stress. More stress leads to lack of sleep. And so on and so forth. The cycle continues. Clean up your sleep hygiene.

The other solution that’s worth a shot comes from our founder herself. She uses the P1, P2, P3 (Priority) Method. Everything she does drives an outcome of the business. Loizides says, “P1s directly impact a goal, P2s are tangential, and P3s have no impact on a goal. I keep a list of my goals and assign tasks on my To Do list a 1, 2, or 3. I review it every day or two. I’ve learned that P3s make me feel good, but I can cross them off the list. It’s fake progress. I try and ignore those. P2s get my attention after P1s.” She crosses out what doesn’t serve her and moves on. That’s that. It doesn’t just have to work for your work life, it can work for your day today. Make your P1s, your P2s, and your P3s, and get rid of what you don’t need. Trim the fat.

Finally, Petersen suggests simply acknowledging burnout for what it is, “not a passing ailment, but a chronic disease.” Treat it through mindfulness. Treat it through understanding what it’s doing to you, your body, your future self. Act accordingly. You might not cure your burnout, but you can slow its effects. We think it’s worth a shot.