Article Apr 15, 2015

3 primary factors in Millennials and burnout

Have you noticed that a common claim among the millennial generation is that many of them are "burned out"? Blog posts are popping up everywhere voicing concerns over burnout and giving people various ways to avoid this feared state. While being burned out is certainly not something we should desire for ourselves or others, I'm confused by this generation’s serious focus on this subject.

I never, ever heard my dad or grandfather claim they were “burned out” by their jobs, responsibilities or commitments, which were numerous. I'm not even certain they would know what burnout means. They had families to support, bills to pay, a job that required they show up on time and leave at a certain time, and came home to have dinner with their families by 6:00 p.m. They had two weeks of vacation, 30 minutes to eat the lunch they brought from home, and expectations that were required to be met for their employment. They had the weekends off and spent them parenting during quality time with their family.

I am not trying to make this a generational comparison, but maybe I need to. We need to figure out exactly what is going on in our culture with a generation that has done less but claimed burnout more than any previous generation. What is going on?

Three primary factors in burnout

I think there are several realities, but overall, I think it stems from three primary factors:

1. Extended adolescence

Many millennials have never had to work a day in their life unless they wanted a little extra money to take backpacking in Europe. Getting extra money usually meant babysitting a little more or working for their dad’s friend without having to actually apply for the job.

These days, people go to graduate school for no real reason or plan—outside of the expectations of parents or the desire to stay a student rather than entering the real world. Mom and dad have usually paid for everything major, so a job is not even urgent in the eyes of many millennials. And even though they are making $30,000 a year, they are able to continue living a life at the standard of their parents’ income.

It is hard to take on adult responsibility when you have never had to possess it in any other area of life. When one has been treated as the center of the universe as a child and teen, the real world becomes a major adjustment, and the demands of a basic work schedule will seem extreme—and lead to rapid “burnout.”

The millennial generation is soft because many of them have been babied. Many Christian blog posts are focused on “slowing down” and are written and marketed to a generation that is not going as fast as they claim. They are at coffee shops and staring at their phones while having time to train for marathons. None of these are bad things, but they certainly don’t make the case for having no extra time.

2. The fear of missing out

The weather is nice outside, and your friends are spending a long weekend in New York City, shopping and Instagramming every moment, and you are frustrated that you have to work! Sure, it’s disappointing, but there are times when you have to work and not play. The millennial often convinces himself or herself that it is the employer’s or the job’s fault that he/she is missing out, when the reality is that a job is something he/she needs to provide the income for personal and family responsibilities. Millennials have vacation time available to do some playing too, but like 99% of working Americans, it is accumulated and earned. One won’t be able to travel whenever he/she wants, and that can be a hard realization.

The ever-present social media world reminds us there is always something more fun and glamorous to be doing, but those things are rarely doable unless we have income, which comes from jobs that expects us to work. Another fear prevalent among millennials is that they are not fulfilling their passions in their jobs. While it’s probably true, only a small percentage of people get to enjoy that privilege. And even fewer people get paid to do their hobbies—something millennials often expect.  

3. Misdiagnosis

I first became aware of these issues when our children's minister lost some volunteers because they claimed they were “burned out.” I was confused by these claims because the volunteers’ commitment consisted of one hour each Sunday. One hour! I hardly believe they were having issues with burnout. The diagnosis was most likely closer to simply not feeling like doing it anymore because they wanted to go to brunch with their friends. When responsibility is pressing, and the fear of missing out is at the forefront of your mind, WebMD might suggest burnout, but reality says the antidote is becoming an adult and claiming your responsibilities.

Overcoming “burnout”

So, how do we help millennials tone down the burnout talk? We must help them understand that they must live for two things: the glory and mission of God.

1. The glory of God

The glory of God is the reason those who have believed the gospel—by putting their faith in Jesus Christ—now exist. This understanding leads to a proper theology of vocation. Work existed in the pre-fallen state of man (prior to Genesis 3). Adam was given responsibility over the work of the land by God himself. It was following the entrance of sin into the world and the life of Adam that the toil and hardship of work became a reality.

While we live as redeemed people among the curse of work that still exists, our calling is to the renewal of vocation in which we seek the glory of God in our efforts. After all, the Christian should view our work as "something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that [we] will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord” (Col. 3:23-24). We serve the Lord Christ. Ultimately, the point of our work is not our passion, ambition, dreams or even income, but the glory of God.

2. The mission of God

The mission of God is also essential to understanding how the Christian is to relate to work. As believers who are called to let our light shine before others, distinction in the workplace will help point our unbelieving co-workers to a distinct God. No one has the opportunity to be around unbelievers like someone in the workplace. While many millennial Christians are quick to jump to a social cause or overseas mission trip in order to join the mission of God, we forget that this same mission exists right in front of us, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

You might not have the ideal job, but for the Christian, it is never "just a job." The glory and mission of God are on display for all to see as we work. In the power of the Spirit, hard and honest work done with a correct understanding of why we do what we do won't lead to burnout but to carrying out our responsibilities as ambassadors of Christ for the glory of God.