On Millennial Women, Burnouts, and the Work-Life Balance


Ever heard of the term “millennial burnout syndrome”? Well, it exists, and it’s not looking pretty…

This term was coined by Forbes a couple years ago. In her article, Larissa Faw argued that a growing number of young professional women who seem to “have it all” are burning out at work before they reach their 30s.

According to a study carried out in the U.S.,  McKinsey&Company found that for several reasons, women are less likely than men to advance on the corporate ladder. Women’s advancement odds are simply lower at every level. Furthermore, there is a persistent leadership gap in most senior roles.

While women’s and men’s ambition for senior leadership differ, we do share concerns about stress and balancing family and work. However, women are more likely to cite “stress/pressure” as a bone of contention, and this is not solely rooted in concern over family responsibilities. Not only do women cite “stress/pressure” as an issue but also as a number-one obstacle. Men, on the other hand, say balancing work and family is their main concern; and those who have children (men and women) are more likely to say they want to be promoted and become a top executive.

These findings provide us with a valuable insight: the path to leadership is perhaps unreasonably stressful for women. This disproportionate playing field appears to be taking a toll on women in leadership. Senior-level women are consistently less satisfied with their role, opportunities for advancement, and career than men are. The study also found that only 28 percent of senior-level women are very happy with their careers, compared with 40 percent of senior-level men.

It can be asserted that these statistics could be linked to the work-life balance. (Most) women continue to do a bigger share of child care and housework, therefore they are more likely to be affected by the perks of juggling home and work responsibilities. The Women in the Workplace study also found that at every level, women are at least nine times more likely than men to say they do more child care and at least four times more likely to say they do more chores. Even in households where both parents work full-time, 41 percent of women reported doing more child care and 30 percent reported doing more household chores. Basically, according to the statistics of this particular study, women are more likely than men to say they make sacrifices in their career to support their partner’s career.

Even though millennial couples split household chores more evenly, women under thirty still do a majority of child care.

Anyway, let’s go back to the burnout syndrome. In everyday jargon, a burnout is often defined as a work-related process of chronic stress and disengagement. It can definitely take a toll on your work and life.

It can be hard to pull yourself out of the downward spiral, but it is very important to try to understand the disease before drawing conclusions that might not necessarily be true.

Let’s try to bust some common burnout myths:

A favourite myth is that having a burnout means you’re weak and can’t handle stress. Well, sure that’s what your body is telling you. I mean, when you’re tired and over-experiencing negative emotions like cynicism, it is the perfect opportunity for your inner critic to thrive on this and to therefore question everything from the way you work to your sanity. There are, of course, better ways to deal with stress, and surprisingly enough, it has little to do with yoga or exercising more.
Pyschology Today published an article about a month ago with some interesting myth busting insights and strategies on how to deal with burnouts.

In the article, two important strategies are mentioned. The first is knowing your impact. People who perceive their jobs as stressful and demanding do, in fact, report more burnout. However, a study carried out by the British Psychological Society (2007) found that job stress is only linked to higher burnout rates when people feel like they aren’t making a difference. The second strategy has more to do with helping others. UCLA psychologist Shelley Taylor discovered that when we’re stressed, our brains release chemicals that push us to bond and seek others- She named this response “tend and befriend”. Other studies have found that even as people start to burn out, their willingness to help others remain high. One particular study found that for many people, a burnout actually “increases our giving tendencies” by triggering this response.

Another common myth is that having a burnout requires a major work or life change. Well…not really. ever heard of job crafting? In their study Berg. et al (2007) defined job crafting as a process that individuals engage in over time. Most job crafting models involve three general stages. First, employees are motivated to craft their own jobs by one or more factors. Second, employees identify the crafting opportunities available to them and enact one or more ways of crafting their jobs. Third, these crafting techniques are directly associated with outcomes for the job crafter. If carried out properly, job crafting is a way for employees to improve their lives at work in several important ways as well as make valuable contributions to the workplace. Everyone is different, and it is difficult for organizations to create optimal job designs for every individual employee. It should be noted that job crafting theory does not devalue the importance of job designs assigned by managers; it simply values the opportunities employees have to change them.

Another typical myth is that a vacation or a day off will “cure” your burnout. I get that people would think like that. But trust me, it´s one of the biggest misconceptions. Research has shown that vacations do not “cure” burnout. Even though burnout levels do decrease during vacation, they often come back with a vengeance within a week or two after returning to work.

And now, for my favorite burnout myth. If you are burned out it means you are also depressed. Well, turns out ,researchers are still busy figuring it out to what extent they are related. According to Aydemir & Icelli (2012) about 20 percent of burnout cases can be explained by depression, and vice versa. This means, by default, that 80 percent of the time, other factors are at play. Very often a burnout is also perceived as a gateway  illness because it welcomes other type of issues, like for example, physical illnesses. One particular study found that high levels of burnout in women increased different inflammation bio-markers while depressive symptoms did not; among the men in the study, the opposite was found.

To conclude, a burnout is a complex illness, lots of ins and outs. It takes time to unravel all of the pieces that go into the puzzle, but I think the process is totally worth it. If you have the right tools, you can have continual success at juggling work and life, especially us millennials.

What are your thoughts on this topic?

image courtesy of: http://www.thejaggedword.com

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