Smarter Working

The Wellness Factor: Burned Out

More workers—particularly of the younger generations—are feeling run-down. Something’s got to give. Second in a series.

If you scroll through any millennial’s Instagram feed, you’ll notice not only that everyone seems to be working all the time, but that everyone seems to love working all the time.

Yet, behind the filtered photos of MacBooks in coffee shops and hashtag hustles, the live-to-work lifestyle isn’t adding up to a lot of fulfillment. According to a recent Gallup study on burnout, seven in 10 millennials are experiencing some level of burnout on the job.

Seven in 10 millennials are experiencing some level of burnout on the job.

Of course, all workers feel burned out at some point in their careers. But the millennial generation—which now comprises the largest generation in the workforce—faces a tougher set of economic circumstances than previous generations, which weren’t saddled with hefty college loans and unpaid internships. “I had friends who spent two years after college working unpaid internships during the day and waiting tables at night,” says Gwen Lawson, CXO program manager at Korn Ferry. “It was a recipe for exhaustion.”

If you feel you’re wearing thin, here are some changes that could help you reclaim at least part of your energy.

Don’t confuse effort with results.

Many of us grew up hearing, “If you work hard enough, success will come.” But that perception has become harder to strive for as companies do more work with fewer people. Indeed, when employees say they have enough time to do all of their work, they’re 70% less likely to experience high burnout, Gallup found.

You’re always going to have a limited amount of time and energy, so becoming aware of how you’re spending that time—and rejiggering it—can help prevent burnout. If you’re unsure where the time is going, spend a week tracking your actions in 15- to 30-minute increments. If you’re spending a ton of time on emails, meetings, or other low-productivity tasks, figure out how to streamline those so you can devote real energy to work that makes the biggest impact.

Unfollow social media accounts that make you feel inadequate.

Beyond the uncertain economics driving burnout, there’s also social pressure from people celebrating the “I’m so busy” notion. “When every other article on LinkedIn is ‘How I start my day at 3 a.m. to meditate, cure cancer, drink 11 glasses of water, stretch, and teach my children three languages and piano—and that’s before I go to work,’ there’s a projected sense of inadequacy if you’re not doing that,” says John Petzold, senior client partner at Korn Ferry and head of the CXO Optimization practice.

If certain accounts send you into a spiral of comparison, unfollow them. Free yourself to focus on the work that’s in front of you; you’ll accomplish more that way—with higher morale—and be able to be more present in reality.

View your career as a mosaic.

Career paths no longer resemble ladders—starting at one place and working upward. Instead, they’re now what some experts like to call lattices or mosaics. Rather than trudging down a path, focus on building interesting experiences and parlaying them into your next move. Indeed, a recent study from the CEO Genome Project found that the fastest way to become CEO was through making bold career moves. More than 60% of “CEO sprinters,” or those who made it to the top the fastest, took on a smaller role at some point in their career, such as moving from a big firm to a small firm to take on bigger responsibilities. “You have to be flexible and creative,” Lawson says.

Don’t fuel the flames.

With so much of our identity wrapped up in work, it’s important to find value and identity in something that isn’t work related, and to not succumb to the “I’m so busy” mantra of today. Pursue something just for the sake of it, like learning the ukulele, practicing yoga, or cooking Thai food. Being well-rounded not only makes you a more interesting person, it also gives your brain the breaks needed to return to work refreshed and energized.

Next up: Why companies are waking up to one of the biggest drivers of wellness: sleep.

In part one: Ways to bring self-care to work. 

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