Millennial Burnout Is a Real Thing — How to Prevent It

POPSUGAR Photography | Stephanie Wong
POPSUGAR Photography | Stephanie Wong

Not to brag, but I keep pretty impressive company. Some of my closest friends include a self-sufficient single woman on track to be chief learning officer at her company who ran 30 marathons and became a homeowner before turning 30; a self-motivated overachiever who is breaking barriers in the tech industry advocating for diversity and women's inclusion with some of the most powerful figures in Silicon Valley by her side; and a sustainability and social responsibility guru who, at 30, is already a step away from VP at her high-profile advertising agency.

These women are kicking butts and taking names, doing work they're passionate about, and, honestly, changing the world at the same time. So why did I get this early-morning text from one of my girlfriends this week:

"This podcast on burning out made me ugly cry on my way to work this morning — where I opened my bag to realize I left my computer at home after working late (again and again)."

The episode she sent, from Real Simple's Adulthood Made Easy podcast, is titled "Why Are We Getting Burnt Out at Work?," and it addresses this Fast Company article that has since spawned a number of stories on how millennial women are burning out at their jobs by their early 30s and even late 20s. As someone who can relate (sort of, I'll get to that in bit), here's what I think the 30-something burnout boils down to.

Why Is It Happening?

  1. Unrealistic expectations we put on ourselves. Adding fuel to the fire is the prevelance of social media and all the inevitable comparisons we can't help but make to other millennial women who seem to have their sh*t together (when the truth is, nothing's as perfect as it seems).
  2. Not having the ability to really disconnect from the job. With 24/7 access to work emails, it's extremely difficult to do that whole "work-life balance" thing.
  3. Having a job you don't really love. This could be because you chose your career path based on what you thought you're "supposed" to do from a practical standpoint, or it could be because you just didn't know what you really wanted to do at 18 when you were expected to choose a college major. (And who does, really?)

So how can you keep this from happening to you? Both the podcast and the Fast Company article come to a similar conclusion that if you find your dream job, you won't get burned out because you'll love what you do. I don't necessarily think it's as simple as that, but I agree on some level — I LOVE my job so much that I've been with POPSUGAR for six years, which in millennial years is practically a lifetime. That said, do I get stressed out and, at times, have I felt close to burning out over the years? Yes, absolutely.

I'm a firm believer that you make your own destiny, and the grass might just continue to be greener at another job unless you do something about it. So before you up and change careers — which you might need to do, and that's OK! — I suggest trying these tips first.

How Can You Prevent It?

  1. Find a professional mentor, either your boss or someone else you can talk to honestly about feeling close to the burnout breaking point. Have an open conversation about what you're struggling with and work together to figure out what needs to change. Is it your position? Is it something you're doing that you'd rather not be doing? Could you do something that would make your job more fulfilling?
  2. If there's something you have to do — like travel, for instance — that's particularily draining, find a way to make it more enjoyable. Be honest with your manager that you need more realistic flight times or buffer days to recoup after a long trip.
  3. If you're feeling burnt out, focus on the one thing you really love about your job and do that for a day or a week to recharge.
  4. Make a growth plan. Do some soul searching and come up with one or two stretch goals. Then work with your manager to get there. You might feel better about all the hard work if you know you're moving forward. This could be giving a presentation to the department or taking ownership of a big project.
  5. Use your vacation days. Burnout usually goes hand-in-hand with exceptionally busy times, so taking time off when things get crazy can seem counterintuitive. But giving 150 percent for long stretches of time can zap your energy, wear down your patience, and kill your creativity. Find a day, a long weekend, or a whole week — whatever's doable for you — to get away and refill your reserves, and you'll be a happier, more productive person when you get back at it. Even if you have 2,000 unreads in your inbox.
  6. Split up meetings. Have a peer go to one and you to the other and then exchange notes so you have some uninterrupted time.
  7. Make some time to work with interns or get coffee with someone trying to break into your field. You'll get a boost from sharing your wisdom and also realize how much you've learned (and appreciate how far you've come).
  8. Find ways to create autonomy at work. Maybe it's pitching a project you really have ownership of or having a frank conversation with your boss about micromanaging and creative freedom. If you know you have control over all the hard work you put in, you'll feel better about it.
  9. Be realistic. As I mentioned, unrealistic expectations are at least partly to blame for the burnout many millennial women experience, so take a step back and look at the expectations you place on yourself at work. Are you building a daily to-do list that's a mile long and filled with things no human can accomplish in a day? Do you say yes to every project that comes up because you don't want to let your manager down? Identify the things that are pushing you to the edge, and work with your manager to scale them back or get them off your plate.
  10. Find daily time to recharge, too. If you read up on the daily routines of the happiest, most successful people, you'll find they all have this habit in common. Even if your line of work doesn't really leave room for you to completely check out after 5 p.m., you can still set aside time every day to do whatever it is that clears your head. Get in a workout, have a glass of wine with a friend, read a book, or even meditate for just 5-10 minutes.
  11. Have a creative outlet outside of your job. This can help keep you sane, and if you do decide to leave your job, it could even become your new career.

Additional reporting by Mandy Harris and Annie Gabillet