Burnout Among Millennial Women: The Drive for Meaning

by Tara Rodden Robinson on April 29, 2012

in Family Leave,Performance Management

If you had talked to me a year ago, I’d have sounded much different that I do today. I was driven. I embraced hard work with an enthusiasm usually reserved for only lovers or coconut cream pie. I would state, quite proudly, “Nobody can outwork me.” What I meant by that was if somebody nearby seemed to raise the bar, I was determined to outpace them.

This might have gone on forever, except that life intervened to stop me in my tracks.

When my elderly father got sick, I did the only thing I felt I could do as the only child–especially as a daughter. I dropped everything to be there, take care of him, and help my mom.

One of my older friends refers to this as the “dutiful daughter” syndrome. Herself a dutiful daughter, she took a lengthy leave of absence to return to the Deep South to care for her dying father. It was the only thing to do, given that her mom is in her eighties and battling her own health problems. And living all the way on the other side of the country made her choice even more necessary. Anyway she looked at it, getting from her home in the Pacific Northwest to her parents’ home in South Louisiana was a two day affair. Being there, putting the rest of her life and career on hold, seemed to be the only option.

Now I hear that 30 year old, “millennial” women are burning out. They’ve grown up with full schedules–extra-curriculars galore plus school work–and many, it’s reported, have no “off” button. My guess is that the word “yes,” escapes their lips all too often as they soar into the stratosphere of their ambitions and aspirations. If they’re anything like the beautiful twenty-somethings I chat with, these women found non-profits (or volunteer at them) while aiming for meaningful career paths. And it’s the desire for meaning that seems to drive them hardest of all.

According the MTV’s “No Collar” study, loving their work far outranks salary and bonuses in the minds of millennials of both genders. Half of millennials surveyed (males and females combined) said they’d rather have no job than a job they hated. A full 90% of them think they “deserve” their dream job. All these expectations create a pressure cooker in the workplace. But for women, this pressure cooker has added heat.

In their 2007 article for Harvard Business Review, Alice H. Eagly and Linda L. Carly, write, “Although it is common knowledge that mothers provide more child care than fathers, few people realize that mothers provide more than they did in earlier generations—despite the fact that fathers are putting in a lot more time than in the past.”

These additional hours of demands at home run smack into the bias against women on the “mommy track” that’s still the norm in many organizations. It’s not unusual, according to Eagly and Carly, for moms to be passed over while men with same-age children are promoted. The demands of childcare are often posited as the reason why. Everybody knows that for women, their families will come first, right? I shudder when I compare this what a CEO of a Fortune-500 told me last week about people who don’t get promoted: “the ones who put their self-interest ahead of the company’s.”

As a productivity coach, I often find myself wanting to convince my young professional women clients to say ‘no’ more often. If they could bring themselves to turn down some requests, perhaps the breathing space would be enough to keep them from flaming out. But when the child or the husband or the parent gets sick, there is no saying no to that.

What are your experiences with millennials or as a millennial in today’s work world? How does your organization respond to women on the “mommy-track?”

 

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About the Author:

Tara is the newest member of the Cascade Employers team. As the Productivity Facilitator, her specialty is helping people conquer overwhelm and overload. She provides coaching services as well as speaking and training on many topics related to work productivity. You can learn more about her by visiting our website.

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