Working at a Gen Z company means that whatever is trending on our TikTok FYPs is what we are chatting about. Not only is it a necessity in our line of work, but this means on any given day our topics will range from certain podcast creators being banned on social media to more lighthearted content (see: this interview on corn that is now an official single on Spotify). A topic that’s lately been trending on mine that I don’t hear as many office conversations about is the issue of “burnout” in the workplace. Initially, I was confused why this had not come up more with my coworkers, but then I realized something: for Gen Zers, burnout isn’t really a conversation starter. It’s old news.
Ask any of my coworkers who are also Gen Z if they have dealt with burnout; I would be surprised if you walked away empty-handed. Here’s a morbid observation to put it in perspective: it seems that just as fashion trend cycles are speeding up, societal trends are also doubling down. I am 24 years old: in the last 15 years (62% of my entire lifespan), we have experienced two economic recessions. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Zooming out to capture Gen Z’s entire existence, we’ve lived through a global pandemic, school shootings becoming normal, and perpetuated violence against marginalized groups by the very law enforcement and government meant to protect them. We’ve had a front row seat from our phone screens as people have had basic human rights taken away. This is a brief and inconclusive list, but it’s important to address as people from other generations often look at Gen Z’s adolescent & young-adult experience & retort that “every generation has suffered.”
While the sentiment is correct, the implication that Gen Z’s suffering is no different from our predecessors is, quite frankly, short-sighted. Gen Z stands apart from prior generations, having grown up amidst global turmoil from which we have never gotten a break. Our overexposure to information and consumption has only multiplied in the social media explosion of the last two-or-so-decades. And if you want to remain relevant, in-the-know, and a participant of society, engaging with the internet and social media is literally necessary. Generations prior could escape from it, but our social media feeds are playing across our brains as we fall asleep—this is the cultural garden Gen Z was grown in. Gen Z is irrevocably intertwined with its culture, for better or for worse, and that has undeniably taken its toll.
Enter: burnout – a cultural phenomenon that is not going away any time soon. Let’s talk about what it is, what it isn’t, and the larger conversations that need to be happening as a result.
By strict definitions, Psychology Today describes burnout as “a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.” As with many (if not all) mental health issues, misconceptions often rule the roost when it comes to understanding these conditions & the people they affect. Having an exhaustive or bad day at work is not the same as the prolonged & often debilitating state of burnout that over 52% of employees are now reporting, post-COVID, according to a 2021 report by Indeed. Burnout is not a revolutionary concept by any means, but I do think that as society displays increasing symptoms of collective burnout, understanding the big-picture implications is important to finding a way forward.
The recovery time necessary for an individual to progress out of a state of burnout is surprising — some health professionals believe up to three to five years. Taking three to five years off of work is not a realistic option for most people, let alone the world at large. So, what can be done? This is where Gen Z comes in: we are not the first to experience collective burnout, but we are the first generation that has been brave enough to speak up and do something about it.
Gen Z’s entrance into the workplace has been perplexing for many companies, which we witness firsthand at JUV Consulting. Gen Z places an emphasis on mental health & wellness like no generation before it, and they are transforming workplace expectations as a result. As executive assistant to the CEO, I sit in on a lot of calls where companies ask Ziad “What are your thoughts on the Great Resignation and how to fix it?” Or “As a Gen Zer, how do you feel about Gen Z’s attitude towards work?”
They’re valid questions: companies are concerned about the wellbeing of their workplace environment and trying to bridge generational gaps with their employees. However, I think it’s possible that these companies are adopting the wrong approach. There’s an implied question here, along the lines of “How do we get Gen Z to stop acting like Gen Z?” Rather than approaching the generational gap with a curiosity and a desire for understanding, the questions often come from a place of trying to get Gen Z to simply conform to their predecessors.
But, we need every generation, and every generation had an era where they were the “new generation”. Each had its struggles, dissonances, and brilliance as well. Gen Z is uniquely tasked with the overgrowth of information at our fingertips and what on earth to do about the resulting burnout. It is like studying too long for a test; at some point, you have all the information you can handle & now it is time to act.
With any mental health struggle, you cannot simply suppress symptoms & hope to improve. It’s cliche but true that something like burnout cannot be worked around, but must rather be worked through. A collective mentality of burnout means that we have to address burnout for what it is, and create a space for healthy and engaging conversation around burnout in the workplace. Burnout has been occurring long before Gen Z entered the workforce, but as a generation we have the opportunity to and are changing the tide of workplace mentalities. Gen Z is the generation that is unafraid to address the global issues we have had a front-row seat to since birth.
It can be difficult to hope for change or improvement amidst global turmoil, but to address an issue is to be hopeful that it can change. Gen Z is not only observant of the world, but optimistic that it can and will change for the better. And that is one of the first steps towards burnout recovery – regaining a sense of inspiration and hope for the future.