Chill Out Not Burnout

By Irene Gould

New York – the city that never sleeps. Growing up in the shadow of Manhattan, my parents constantly pushed me to be smarter and work harder with the hopes that my success could shoot above the skyscrapers. When I started interviewing at companies and asked my network for advice, they added a gendered scope to this notion: As women we earn less, so we need to work twice as hard to ask for that raise and earn our place at the table.

93c5936e29334556313c70bd3ced1daa.jpg

When I first heard this advice I didn’t think that working hours could be a gendered subject. Then one of my jobs shattered my expectations: there were no women on the senior leadership team and my female colleagues exhausted themselves by working longer hours trying to be noticed. After some time, many including myself left the company to pursue a more balanced work environment. Workplace data shows that my situation wasn’t unique:

53% of entry-level jobs are held by women, whereas women only hold 37% of mid-management level roles and 26% of senior-level positions. The gendered advancement gap between pay grades is very clear. Since only 11% of women leave the workforce to start a family, I wondered what additional factors caused women to leave the workforce prematurely.

Given my past experience, burnout immediately came to mind.

What piqued my interest further was just how many more women held entry level jobs and how  one of the largest groups currently holding those jobs is my generation, the millennials. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of millennials, otherwise known as the lazy generation, burning out from working too hard.

As it turns out, a recent survey found that a whopping 83% of millennials in the United States work over 40 hours per week, with 23% of respondents working over 50 hours per week. For reference comparatively, between 1970-1990 the average work week was under 40 hours long. 

While the research on this speaks volumes, the idea of the lazy millennial remains and is something that millennials need to combat in Corporate America.

Personally, I was dworried about being perceived as a lazy millennial and asked my peers for words of wisdom on how to combat the stereotype. They told me that as female millennials we need to work four times as hard, to work twice as hard as our male millennial colleagues. In my last job, I took this advice and proceeded to put in longer hours than any of my coworkers. At the end of the day I was exhausted, but I made the impossible happen.

That earned me the respect I was craving. However, that respect didn’t earn me happiness or long-term success. Instead, working those extra hours without rest made me physically ill and more stressed about work, which caused me to use my time less effectively and be less productive. Instead of staying in my job for growth, I bounced to an environment that energized me more.

While that turned out to be a fantastic move for my psyche, career-wise it very well could have held me back from advancement at my former company. Hence contributing to the statistic of women bouncing between entry-level jobs rather than advancing. My putting in longer hours didn’t get me further in my career, if anything because it contributed to me leaving my job it detracted from it.

Given the existing statistics on millennial work hours and the advancement gap, burnout is an issue that disproportionately affects younger women in the workplace. As such, in addition to burnout being a corporate issue it is also a generational and feminist one too. Applying new lenses to an existing problem may help uncover innovative ways to solve it.

Meanwhile, millennial women need to know that working double or triple the hours of their peers to combat layers of stereotypes isn’t going to prove anything to anyone. Working lengthy hours negatively impacts a person’s health and their long-term ability to stay in the workforce. Instead of working long hours, make each hour in the workday count for the most it can and take some time to chill out. Then gain the career experience and longevity to advance and fight the advancement gap, instead of becoming another statistic.