2019 is the year in which 'Boomer' has been selected as Van Dale Word of the Year. For those who missed it, a 'Boomer' is a person from the baby boomer generation or anyone older than the person using the word and the word grew wildly popular thanks to the OK Boomer internet meme. While I don't like to put people in boxes, I picked yet another demographic cohort (Millennials) for my blogpost, because if I would have to put myself in a generation-defining box, it would be this one. As captured perfectly in this article by Anna Joyce from The Irish Times, "We are a generational buzzword - the 'millennial', the 'snowflake' - as opposed to a collective of human beings. We were told we were special and could achieve anything. However, society and the world around us dictated that we could have these things but one mistake, failed investment, hasty decision and your foundation could collapse. This insecurity combined with privilege equates to a soured perfectionism among many, or a fear of commitment and responsibility in others".
Then why would I want to write about it? I can't possibly write better articles than others you might say (and you are probably right). Thing is, I have been thinking a lot about this over the past year. The quote above can be extended with the following quote from the same article: We live in a “hustle culture”, a world which applauds those with unnatural work ethics and uncurbed ambition. I conceded early on in my career that weakness does not correlate with success. I was proud that I could work 12 hours a day without stopping, that I arrived early and left late. That I hadn’t taken more than four days off in four years. You can’t discuss a trip to Ibiza in a job interview. I was proud of neglecting myself. Moreover, I was rewarded for it. What does this sound like? Because to me it sounds like a recipe for disaster. And I am not alone.
While it is great to have highly motivated and engaged employees, 1 in 5 employees is highly engaged and at risk of burnout. Apparently Millennials became the burnout generation, and The message that we can work harder and be better at everything leaves us feeling that we are servants rather than masters of our work. Society has primed us to care about ego and status instead of the balance between our career and life outside of it. It seems almost impossible to leave work at work with technology blurring the line between work and your own time, always and anywhere still being connected to work if you want to. Naturally, the self-critical type of perfectionist works hard to avoid failure, thereby putting themselves at high risk of burnout. At one point, one might even forget how to enjoy life.
Isn't it odd that everything you learn during your educational life is focussed on becoming the perfect worker (remember, you can achieve anything if you work hard enough!) -- yet nobody teaches you how to have a healthy work-life balance and take care of yourself. This is how you end up with Millennials writing things such as: I don’t remember the last time I relaxed. Honestly? I don’t know how to. Building resilience helps to better handle stress. But these skills are not the cure for burnout, nor are they the vaccine. It might also help to lay down roots that keep you grounded.
Think about how you introduce yourself to somebody you just met. You are very likely to talk about the job(title) that you have, the company you work for. And this is not unexpected in any way; for most people working is the main activity (in terms of hours) during a regular week, and it takes most hours from their day. But you are not your job or company. They are merely lucky to have you working for them, as part of the company. It is not weird that you get a sense of identity from the work that you do, but this could lead to quite an identity crisis. Millennials are more likely to identify as work martyrs. That is a slippery slope.
Michael D. Hill introduces RAMPS as a motivation model: Rhythm, Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose, Safety. The one I would like to highlight in this context is Rhythm. Rhythm is periods of tension leading to periods of release. It’s the coming and going of energy & intensity. This is the part about always giving 100%, because that is what Millennials often tend to do. However, it also includes periods of release, meaning that you can and should not always give 100% (or more) of yourself. How about the famous saying "Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life"? Doing what you love and pouring all your energy into might lead to passion burnout. Passion must be handled with care. Mindfully living with a passion can be the key to a life well lived. It is often suggested that you should spend at least one hour per day on yourself as the secret to your success. Balance work with (creative) projects.
Burnout is not a disease or a personal matter. Burnout is an occupational phenomenon. You can't bubble bath your way out of it. Individual workers can't fix it alone. Burnout is even rising in Sweden, the land of work-life balance. Burnout is about your workplace, not your people. To prevent burnout, hire better bosses. How to tell if you’re close to burning out?
This post is not trying to talk you into a burnout. However, please be aware that there is more to the job experience than just burnout. This is mostly a write-up for myself and some severe words of caution. If you feel like you already crossed a line, recognized yourself in the above Overextended/Disengaged/Ineffective or one or more of the six major imbalances between employees and their work that often lead to burnout, you might want to learn about recovering from burnout.
This write-up would not be complete without a quote from Fight Club: "We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off." - Chuck Palahniuk