As far as generational groups go, Millennials have garnered themselves quite the reputation, especially in the workplace. They’ve been called ambitious, team-oriented, tech-savvy, overly passionate and driven by achievements.
On the other hand, they’ve received a lot of flak from naysayers who swear that they are self-absorbed, entitled, lazy and spend way too much of their lives on social media. The truth, which is neither here nor there, is that the Millennial condition is a fascinating one. A closer examination of how they have been nurtured puts into perspective why they act the way they do.
In her new book Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, Anne Helen Petersen, who authored the extensively-read 2019 Buzzfeed News article on the Millennial conditions of “burnout” and “errand paralysis”, delves deeper into the Millennial psyche as well as into their upbringing to explore the whys behind anxiety, exhaustion and despair, difficulties this generation regularly suffers from.
In Can’t Even, Petersen descsribes “burnout” as a persistent “sensation of dull exhaustion” and “the feeling that you’ve optimized yourself into a work robot”.
While it can happen to anyone, Petersen stresses the idea in her book that burnout is a definitive condition for the Millennial generation. But why are they so burned out? Petersen points out that millennials were raised mainly by Baby Boomer parents, whose rather over-zealous, boisterous parenting methods—born out of a desire for their children to have more full, successful and financially secure lives—may have exacerbated burnout by pushing them hard to “perform” and “be better”.
Adding the demands of modern-day work, life and relationships, not to mention the constant pressures of having to display a perfectly happy and amazing life on online media platforms—a social stressor that previous generations did not have to contend with—Millennials have found themselves struggling with anxiety, distress and hopelessness, all of which lead to burnout.
A younger friend of mine, who we like to say is “very Millennial”, is easily overwhelmed and distressed by the mere mention of chores or tasks. When faced with the reality of “erranding” or “adulting”, as Millennials fondly call it, they have to fight the very real fear and dread that accompanies it.
Millennial friend is nervous about seemingly simple tasks such as returning calls, filing or doing anything with paperwork, calling the airlines for a refund on cancelled flights, getting his keys duplicated, and going back to the store to replace the too-small sweater that he bought a few months ago. He hems and haws and procrastinates, and the more he delays, the more anxious he is. This “errand paralysis” is part and parcel of the same burnout affliction.
My older brother, who owns and operates his own film production company, told me about a 20-something Millennial who was working for him. The Millennial, who was bright and creative, informed my brother that she needed “regular social media breaks” throughout the day as she would experience too much anxiety being away from social media for too long. A staunch Generation X-er, my brother could not quite grasp that this was a very real concern for the younger worker. This anxiety Millennials have regarding social media is very real and a symptom of the burnout culture.