No longer teenagers, millennials are now a major force in the workplace; a group who bring much to the table including education, innovation and a passion for finding solutions to problems both old and new. They are also a group that face a number of challenges, not the least of which being a propensity to face burnout, both inside and outside of the work environment. Of course, millennials are not the first generation to face exhaustion and stress but certain unique factors have led to the magnification, or at least evolution, of the problem. Why are millennials, and others, experiencing burnout, how can it be spotted and what should be done to alleviate it? Let’s first examine some environmental factors.
Much has been made about the societal factors contributing to burnout amongst young adults, with a plethora of opinions making consensus difficult to reach. Millennials are entering the workforce during a period of economic and political turbulence where it is no longer taken as a given that they will experience more prosperity than their parents’ generation. Spending their entire career with one company, or even in one profession, is now the exception rather than the rule. Couple this with the fact that many of their generation were raised for success from day one, by parents who emphasized accomplishment through structured schedules and ‘optimized playtime’, and it’s easy to see why a general sense of anxiety can be prevalent. Millennials are taught to ‘follow their passions’, which can be easier said than done, and the perceived line between success and failure is thin, leading to stress in all aspects of their lives.
Always Plugged In
Millennials are digital natives, meaning that many never knew a time before the ubiquity of the internet. Social media has a constant presence providing regular reminders of the fantastic lives their peers are living, or at least presenting. Cultivating an impressive online persona is seen as essential to ‘personal branding’, both socially and in regards to one’s career. This task is as ever-present as the closest smart phone, leading to a blurring between leisure and work where this connectivity also applies. With many positions requiring continued availability outside of work hours, it is difficult to truly unwind.
Recognizing Burnout in the Workplace
When a person experiences exhaustion but continues soldiering on, the result is burnout. Above and beyond the regular rigors of work, exhaustion can, in fact, be indicative of a serious medical situation. Although many will suffer in silence, there are certain signs that can be found.
- Sickness and absenteeism are often signs of burnout. If a normally reliable employee begins missing work on a regular basis, or they regularly work with physical ailments such as muscle tightness or headaches, there may be a problem.
- Decreased productivity or uncharacteristic mistakes are a sign that something serious may be causing a lack of focus.
- Personality changes, increased irritability and cynicism can signal an issue. Many people, particularly those in the service industry are forced to put on a ‘happy face’, so this can at times be difficult to spot.
- Disengagement with one’s job may provide a sign that there is something more behind the scenes.
- Complaints about exhaustion are another signal.
There is no silver bullet when it comes to burnout in the workplace as cases are unique to the individual. It is important to remember that, in some instances, the underlying cause may be personal in nature as opposed to work related. Nevertheless, certain approaches are often effective at improving the situation.
Workload Management: Monitoring workloads is one way to prevent burnout for employees of all ages. Reducing red tape or hiring additional staff can help alleviate this. Oftentimes the reward for excellent work is an increased workload, which doesn’t make sense in some situations.
Communication: Another effective practice is open communication. Recognition and feedback can combat the notion that an employee’s hard work is not being recognized. Setting reasonable goals helps workers feel accomplished, motivated and focussed. Providing employees with a means of voicing their concerns will help bring their condition to the forefront while giving them a means of making suggestions.
Flexibility and Separation: When possible, employees should be encouraged to take true vacations where they are, in fact, unplugged from the stresses of the office. Flexible scheduling and compensation in the form of time off after busy periods are also effective.
Variety: It can be easy to get into the proverbial rut if every day seems the same. Providing employees with an opportunity to participate in a variety of tasks can help them feel valued and rejuvenated.
Fair Treatment: Of course, fair pay and equitable treatment should be a given in the workplace as their absence can breed a host of negative attitudes and detrimental consequences.
Ultimately, the first step in treating burnout is to recognize it. Step two is to treat it like the serious mental health issue that it is. Those suffering should be encouraged to visit a professional and legitimate efforts should be made to provide them assistance. In many cases, organizations have resources in place to help, so they must simply ensure that awareness amongst employees is emphasized.