Symptom #1: You look forward to your mid-afternoon snack in order to break up your workday.
Symptom #2: You’re critical or impatient with your cubicle-mate.
Symptom #3: You feel like you should be working more efficiently at the office, and that there aren’t enough hours in the day.
Diagnosis? It could be a standard case of the good ol’ Monday blues … or you could be on the path to burnout.
Burnout is a psychological stress syndrome that occurs as a “response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job.” Besides feelings of excessive stress, burnout can ruin personal relationships and cause fatigue, insomnia, depression and anxiety.
What’s worse? It may be spreading through Gen Y women like wildfire.
What’s Going On
Larissa Faw, a Forbes writer, claims that burnout among under-30 women is pandemic. Pointing to McKinsey research, she writes that while 53% of entry-level corporate jobs go to women, they make up only 37% of mid-management and just 26% go on to become vice-presidents and senior managers. Meanwhile, men are twice as likely to advance at every stage.
The culprit? Faw says that women may “have simply reached their breaking point after spending their childhoods developing well-rounded résumés.” Additionally, many women may have had unrealistic expectations about the working world, including the long hours demanded of them and the “day-to-day drudgery,” which may come as a shock after college.
To top it all off, working women are worse at caring for themselves, she says: Men are 25% more likely to take breaks during the day for personal activities and 35% more likely to take time solely for relaxation. They also go for walks and head out to lunch more often than their female colleagues.
And, in Addition …
Given that many young graduates started their college careers in the recession and have doubtless been hounded by data on the flagging job market (have you seen that, for the first time in history, more unemployed people have some college education than not?), it could actually be more than too-high expectations and too-little self-care (though those are undoubtedly factors).
Rather, we believe that any burnout particular to young women stems (in addition to the usual culprits of unclear expectations, dysfunctional office dynamics, poor job fit and lack of control) from the fact that women have many expectations placed on them in addition to those set at the office.
Expert Carol Frohlinger, author of “Her Seat at the Table” and “Nice Girls Just Don’t Get It” agrees, saying women grapple with society’s expectations that they should be in a committed relationship, with their eyes on the prize, so to speak, of marriage and family. (And once they achieve those things? Then they have to deal with the “double shift” of work and motherhood.)
8 Steps to Avoiding Burnout
So, what can you do about all of this? While you likely won’t be able to get your boss to turn your 7-to-7 into a 9-to-5 or get your parents to stop asking when they can expect grandkid #1, you can prevent burnout.
1. Readjust Your Own Expectations.
If Faw was right, and you were expecting that your B.A. in English was going to turn into a staff writer position at The New York Times the day after graduation, then it is time to readjust. Everyone has to start somewhere, and that somewhere is generally at the bottom of the pack.
Keep your head held high, and know that proving your competency at even the most menial tasks while maintaining a positive and professional attitude will help keep your career moving in the direction you want.
2. Learn How to ‘Manage Up’
A dysfunctional office dynamic is one of the leading causes of burnout, and issues with a superior are the most stressful. Learning how to “manage up” will help you deal with a boss who is mean, hypercritical or insecure as well as help you figure out the most effective way to reach her expectations. Read our how-to guide.
3. Realize It’s Okay to Say No
Employees who try to be everything to everyone and who are always working to their most-efficient max are extremely at-risk for burnout. Additionally, the worst thing you can do for your career is to overpromise and then under-deliver, says expert and “Great on the Job” author Jodi Glickman. However, there’s a right and a wrong way to say no. Learn the difference, and when to draw the line.
4. Quit Comparing Yourself
We all have that one Facebook friend who seems to have three months of vacation time, the money to spend those months traipsing across Europe and the Abercrombie-model fiancé she’s traipsing with. Forget her. While healthy comparisons can help you determine exactly what your goals are, “comparisonitis” will ruin your finances and your happiness as you endlessly try to keep up with or one-up your friends or family members. Think you’re suffering from comparisonitis? Here’s how to tell.
5. Make Sure You Take Your Vacation Days
Americans will give up roughly 226 million vacation days this year. Don’t be one of them. One report found that 48% of workers felt happier and more positive about their workplaces after taking a vacation. Since feeling cynical about your office is one of the key causes of burnout, taking a vacation is an easy (and fun … and potentially margarita-filled …) way to keep yourself going.
6. Develop Your Interests and Hobbies Outside of the Office
Is your self-worth and identity solely based on your work? If so, you’re highly at-risk for burnout. Devoting time to your interests and hobbies outside of the office will make you a happier and more well-rounded individual. If you can’t remember the last time you indulged in a hobby, think back to what you enjoyed as a child or teen. Consider joining a sports team, picking up a foreign language or volunteering.
7. Take Breaks
As we said earlier, we don’t think that women’s reluctance to take breaks is the primary cause of burnout, but it definitely doesn’t help. So, take the time to recharge during the day. Pause your work to help you maintain good eyesight, or take a walk to help you stay in shape, even when you don’t have time to hit the gym. Alternatively, ask a co-worker out to coffee. Establishing positive relationships at the office will make you happier and help you live longer. (Seriously … science says so.)
8. Take Time to Evaluate Your Career Path
If you’ve been chugging along on the same path for a long time and are feeling signs of burnout, take the time to consider your career. Have your values changed since you first started in your profession? Or is it that the values of your particular company or employer have changed? Are you not being sufficiently challenged—or are you overburdened? To help you figure out whether it’s time for you to change jobs or professions, or go back to grad school, check out our free Build Your Career bootcamp, which will help you figure out the next step that’s right for you and your long-term goals.