If you feel like the whole world is experiencing burnout, the World Health Organization agrees. Earlier this year, the WHO added burnout to its standardised manual, describing it as an “occupational condition”. It’s not exactly an illness, but it is “a reason for which people contact health services”. And there is research showing it can be a “significant predictor” of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, insomnia, depression and substance abuse.
It’s worryingly common; a major 2018 study found 23% of employees reported feeling burnout at work very often or always. Another 44% felt burnout sometimes. Interestingly, it’s not the dull repetitive work that lends itself to burnout – more often it’s work that people feel passionate about: nursing, teaching, caring, and police work, for example.
Burnout isn’t just exhaustion caused by overwork. It’s also a syndrome related to cynicism and frustration that creeps in when a work environment is unsatisfying. The Mayo Clinic says contributing factors may include a lack of control, unclear job expectations, a dysfunctional working environment and lack of work-life balance. But some analysts suggest burnout goes well beyond the office for millennials. Many are struggling to pay off student loans by working long hours in an insecure job market. The housing market seems inaccessible. And even when they head home to their rented apartments, work continues to intrude. Perhaps burnout is the default status for millennials.