Burn(out) Baby Burn

John Whitaker Change, Change Management, Corporate America, Employee Relations, Uncategorized

What’s up FOT’ers? Been a while, how are you holding it together? How’s that job treating you? Are you staving off those feelings of burnout? “What’s that?” you say? “Burnout?” Yep, burnout is officially a thing now. “Burnout” has gone legit.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), workplace burnout can now be classified as an “occupational phenomenon” which may warrant medical attention. (If you’re reading the tea leaves, it’s not a long walk to the classification of a true medical illness protected by FMLA, but that’s not this column.)

How can burnout be something more prevalent in the 21st century? You would think the bells & whistles of the modern workplace would preclude burnout. Compared to the work conditions of past generations, the rigidity of the workday that used to limit family time, fewer employee benefits, and a lack of anything remotely focused on “wellness” related initiatives – we’ve got it pretty good. Except we don’t.

And we can blame the Millennials.

No, no, not in the way you think. Millennials changed the mindset of employees for all generations; you might even say (and I did) that we’re all Millennials now. They may have been the first generation to fully realize that companies don’t “love you back.” While the Boomers were circling retirement dates and Gen X’ers were striving to be identified as a “Hi-Po”, the Millennials saw the other shoe drop in the late ‘00’s. The recession from 2007-2009 was a turning point for Boomers and Gen-X’ers. Do you remember those fun times? Layoffs, merit raise “freezes,” discontinued bonuses, benefit reductions, and an overall corporate buzzkill. Those innocent days of being a lifelong employee were gone. The curtain was pulled back, and we came to a realization that we would demand more of our employers. And in many ways, employers have tried to respond. But are they missing the mark? Look at this quote from Courtney Bigony, director of people science at 15Five, which helps companies identify and avoid employee burnout: “This is an interesting paradox,” “Today, we have great benefits—unlimited time off, dry cleaning on site, onsite yoga. But job satisfaction is so low. People don’t feel valued, and they’re not happy.”

You see it? Right there at the end – “valued.” Tough word to quantify, right? What makes you feel valued may not make me feel valued, and vice versa, so what’s a girl to do? That’s “Millennial speak,” right? As a former boss used to say, “you get showed your value every two weeks.”

No former boss, value no longer relies solely on a paycheck. In today’s world value means collaboration, purpose, balance, and understanding. And here’s where I bring this rambling diatribe back home.

One of the many things we sacrificed during the recession was the presence of a meaningful, relevant training and development department. For many employers, those cuts were never reversed. As a result, leaders aren’t properly trained to develop their subordinates. Potential successors aren’t developed to eventually lead, and the individual employees are no longer invested in their own professional and personal enrichment. “Burnout” is just another way to say “working without purpose.”

That’s no longer acceptable. Thank a Millennial.