The Antidote to Gen Y Burnout

Written by Jessica Stillman | Oct 12, 2011 4:40:54 PM

It’s rough out there for recent college grads. With the group experiencing sky-high unemployment and even more rampant underemployment, those lucky few young people with a career track job are probably feeling pretty lucky. And a bit scared.

That’s great for employers who are hoping to wring the most out of their young hires, but the situation also has dangers. Primary among these is burnout, as frightened young folks work beyond their limits to keep their employers happy.

Of course you could argue that the newest members of the workforce have been toiling for the shortest amount of time (and probably lack the high stakes responsibilities of those higher up the career ladder) and so have the least right to suffer burnout, but entry-level workers often face less than thrilling tasks and a struggle to find their financial footing as adults.

Plus, this is one of the most happiness focused generations in decades, telling pollsters again and again that work-life balance and meaningful, non-miserable work matters more to them than traditional career status.

So what can employers do to get the most out of their young employees without driving up turnover? It’s a topic tackled on the American Express OPEN Forum blog recently by Deborah Sweeney, the CEO of MyCorporation, who offered three useful (and free) suggestions for preventing Gen Y burn out:

  • Provide short-term projects and instant gratification. This particular work group does not have much of a long-term attention span. This is a bit of a generalization, but for the most part, long-term thinking is more difficult for a millennial than it was for any other work group. A short attention span is closely related to procrastination, so it is important to break up long-term projects into shorter ones. That provides quicker gratification and keeps your workers feeling as though they are accomplishing a larger volume of work rather than just one big job. Gratification fuels millennial productivity.
  • Allow multi-tasking. Multi-tasking has become the norm for many millennials because of how easy technology makes it. Younger millennial workers have grown up being able to read a blog, surf the Web and play Scrabble on Facebook, all while researching obscure Pokémon on Wikipedia. Multi-tasking used to be seen as harmful, but with attention spans at an all-time low, trying to prevent multi-tasking typically results in blank stares and deadened eyes as workers get bored with the job at hand. Multi-tasking helps to keep the millennial mind sharp and focused.
  • Don’t hide anything. There is an inherent distrust of authority in youth. Authority never seems to be on your side when you are a kid. Most millennials are still pretty close to their youth, and while they aren’t going to try to lead the office in a mutiny, they do tend to distrust the higher-ups. It's up to management to lay out everything and clear up as much confusion as possible…. List out exactly what you expect, and don’t hide details that can creep up as rumors in the break room.

In addition to the usual causes of burnout like stress and overwork, some of those new to the workforce have a bumpy adjustment as they move from school to the office. Brazen Careerist recently dubbed this condition the “not going back to college blues,” and offered tips to help those struggling with the end of their student years.

While these tips are Gen Y specific, it’s also obviously true that funny haircuts and strange tech habits aside, your youngest employees are people too and familiar burnout prevention strategies for older folks generally apply to them as well. Help them keep learning, keep fit, volunteer and maintain a sense of humor and burnout is less likely.

London-based blogger Jessica Stillman covers generational issues and trends in the workforce for BNET.com.

(Image courtesy of Flickr user Jessica M. Cross, CC 2.0.)