Millennial Women Are Facing Serious Burnout -- Here's How to Beat It
Beyond filling a sizeable role in the workforce population, millennials are also continually advancing and occupying management and leadership roles. According to Parks Communications, millennials will represent 35 percent of the total working population by 2020. Given their enormous growth, many companies are searching for best practices for recruiting, retaining and engaging millennials.
While many millennials recognize the inherent value they bring to the labor market, they must constantly battle misconceptions about them being “lazy,” “entitled,” “shallow narcissists,” “materialistic” and overly absorbed in social media. I readily acknowledge, as a millennial myself, that I am an avid and frequent user of social media.
But like many millennials, I find it quite challenging to manage a professional career and work to salvage a reputable professional identity while battling the innumerable false assumptions about our work ethic. It’s taxing. And it often leads to a very burnt out employee.
The millennial woman paradox
Millennials are on track to become the most educated generation to date -- and millennial women, in particular, are securing more degrees than their older sisters, mothers and grandmothers. As a first-generation college student, my economic and social life outcomes are very different than women from previous generations in my family. Many women are not only more educationally prepared to thrive in our current economy, but they're also postponing marriage and childbirth in order to increase their success and earning potential in the labor market.
The experiences of millennial women in the workplace are unique because they’re at the crux of two important and often opposing identities -- being a woman and being a millennial. While women have made strides in the workplace, inequality still persists. The pay gap, for example, where women, on average, earn 80 cents on the dollar in comparison to their male counterparts -- and this statistic is even lower for women of color.
Women also volunteer for “non-promotable” tasks more than men -- they're more frequently asked to take such tasks on, and when asked, they are more likely to say yes. This, of course, has enormous consequences for women who desire promotion or advancement, as these tasks often have minimal visibility or impact and are rarely taken into account during an annual performance review.
They may be asked to organize a holiday party, staff retreat or a celebration for an employee. And while these events are important, they can be evaluated by male colleagues and leaders as having a very little impact on the success of the organization, and even assumed to be a “woman’s job.”
Thoughts on gender stereotypes (and how we internalize them)
Learning to function in work environments where gender stereotyping exists can also take a toll on millennial women. I was sitting in a staff meeting for my division on how to boost morale in the office -- and a female colleague suggested a “thank you memo” box, where coworkers could commend the work of their colleagues anytime they felt someone did something well. We were all on board.
I was so close to volunteering to help implement this practice in the office -- but in the midst of me thinking about volunteering myself, I asked myself, why. Why did I feel as if this should be my responsibility? In many ways, women take on many of these assumptions and perceptions about the type of work they should be doing -- the caring, emotional labor and morale boosting in the office.
Society sees women as more caring, empathetic and selfless -- and in that moment, I realized I had internalized many of these beliefs about the type of work I "should" be doing in the workplace. I'm not blaming women for putting themselves in positions where they take on “non-promotable tasks” -- many women enjoy taking on that role. Rather, I think the problem is that our organizations don’t see a woman taking on these tasks as an opportunity to exert her leadership skills -- these tasks are not valued nor lead to promotions.
Many women feel as if they have to give more, do more and be more in their work environments -- often leading to increased stress and burnout, with little to no advancement. To the contrary, it is the millennial who is perceived to be the lazy, and apathetic employee. So, how do millennial women navigate these opposing identities? And, most importantly, how do they avoid excessive burnout in their workplaces?
Here are four of our best tips:
1. Keep a spreadsheet of all of your accomplishments.
Oftentimes in a high impact and high productivity company or organization, you'll battle and negotiate multiple competing priorities. This juggling of tasks can sometimes lead to a hectic environment -- and we forget to account for our accomplishments, whether small or large.
Whether the accomplishment is as a small as organizing a company party, or as large as saving the company money or creating a more efficient process, you need to track it. Having a detailed list of your accomplishments and the number of hours required to finish these tasks is not only important for your own professional development and marketability, but it will also serve as a tangible representation of your accomplishments during the annual review process. Account for all of these accomplishments on a spreadsheet, and periodically send this spreadsheet to your manager so they're aware of your impact on the organization.
I recommend bringing this spreadsheet into a meeting with your manager during your annual review and during discussions of merit increases, staff reorganization and advancement. If you're finding yourself engaging in non-promotable tasks more often than not, the accomplishment spreadsheet provides evidence to you and your superior about where your time is being spent, and how your time can possibly be reallocated towards more high impact work. Managers are often unaware of the amount of non-promotable tasks women engage in, because we don’t make it clear about the amount of time these tasks take, and how these tasks distract or prevent us from focusing on other responsibilities.
2. Inquire about how organizations ensure staff/employees well-being.
The mental health and well-being of each employee should be a priority for any organization and employer. It's important that we meticulously evaluate an employer’s commitment to employee mental health early on during the job interview process. And don't worry -- it's completely professional to inquire about work-life balance or how an employer promotes employee morale and satisfaction within the company. Consider the job in it's entirety -- beyond workload and company culture, what kind of mental and emotional labor is involved?
If possible, try to get an account of this commitment from multiple people in an organization, and at different levels. When inquiring, you want their answer to detail specific strategies that help lead to happiness among employees. Some organizations show a commitment to mental health by sponsoring an exercise or fitness group for employees, or promote healthy behaviors like going on a midday walk or joining a book club. The key to avoiding a toxic work culture is to investigate any evidence of toxicity before you're hired.
3. Take a mental health day.
It wasn’t until my second year in my current position that I actually started taking mental health days, and using that terminology in front of my colleagues. As a young millennial woman, you probably spend an excessive amount of time at work trying to justify your existence and your position.
Younger employees can feels extra pressure to join every committee, start every initiative, work long hours and (unfortunately) never take days off -- out of fear that we will be judged for not performing up to other’s expectations. I don’t recommend falling victim to this mindset. Instead, start being proactive about your mental health. It’s good to see a therapist, even if you don’t deem or think anything is wrong with you. You wouldn’t believe the satisfaction you get in talking to a neutral and objective party about your fears and frustrations.
I recommend taking at least one mental health day a month where you allow yourself an opportunity to take a break from work, and if possible, all adulting responsibilities. Take an opportunity to work out, Netflix binge, learn a new hobby and escape from the toxic urgency of always needing to be available for work. Mental health days bring clarity and rejuvenation, and allow you to refocus and reprioritize. If your work culture permits, I would also recommend modeling this practice to your colleagues -- I am firm believer that role modeling continues to shape company culture.
4. Make an escape list.
That’s right, an escape list. An escape list is a list of things you need and/or desire to escape a toxic situation. Because as hard as staying in a toxic work culture can be, it’s even harder to leave.
Some items on your escape list could be being reassigned to a new manager, changing departments, moving offices, working remotely and even getting a new job. Keeping a list and constantly revisiting it creates a sense of empowerment and ownership over your future career trajectory. It serves as a reminder that you have the power to be able to leave a workplace if you choose to. It also keeps you focused on your goals and strategies needed to escape a toxic workplace.
Of course, I would keep this escape list private, and only share it with trusted confidants. If your escape list is quite long, this is a sign that your work culture is having very damaging effects on you, and it’s best to start making your exit.
Avoiding burnout as a millennial woman is very challenging. Women hold a multitude of roles that expand beyond their professional positions as mothers, daughters, caregivers, confidants and spouses. It's hard to manage the negative assumptions about millennials, while also being expected to outperform in the workplace as a woman. Any employer committed to recruiting and retaining millennial women must first understand how to support them, and maximize their potential and happiness.
(By Ciera Graham)