There’s (yet) another article about millennials doing the rounds, but for once it’s not a hit piece: How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation. It’s actually a well put together piece that gets a lot of things right and it gets some things very right indeed and you should definitely go read it.
We’ve all, every last one of us millennials, from the 20 somethings to the 30 somethings, seen the promises of our youth stripped away from us bit by bit. We’ve all witnessed the good economic times and excesses which benefited our parents, but which collapsed leaving us to suffer the consequences. From birth we were sold on the idea that if only we worked and studied hard then we would surely be rewarded. The familiar refrain of “get a degree and you’ll get a good job” still rings in our ears. We were promised and raised on a world of job security, of gold-plated final salary pensions, of constant increases in the standard of living, of inflation beating wage rises and of fair reward for our labours. Our parents largely still believe that world exists, we know better as that world came crashing down on us.
That, of course, is why they berate and belittle us in think pieces about millennials destroying industry X or wasting money on fancy coffees and avocado toast, they assume everything is how it was for them and they don’t realise how different the world is now. After all they are used to a world where everything keeps getting better. However, wage stagnation forces us to hop around jobs more than our predecessors if we ever hope keep up with inflation, even while those jobs are getting less attractive and harder to obtain. The state of pensions has us worried we’ll either never be able to retire, or that if we do that we’ll be doing so in abject poverty. If we’re lucky enough to have a job we often have no real prospect of a raise or promotion, yet we are labelled entitled if we complain about it or even just want to stop work at a reasonable hour occasionally.
We are working til it ruins our mental health, and then we work some more. Yet it is demanded we work ever longer and ever harder in an environment where expecting a pat on the back is asking too much, and we’re constantly told “if you don’t like it, someone else will do it”. We all have friends - smart and capable friends - who have been through periods where they just can’t get work no matter how hard they try, so we put up with it while silently burning out.
The careers we trained and studied for at school and university have been commodified, we’re not people anymore we are “Human Resources” and, we’re told, there are plenty more “resources” where we came from. There’s also no escape to be had from a career dead-end, because it’s no longer possible to switch careers like our parents did. Everything has become so specialised you need the right qualifications and the right experience before you could ever hope to get an interview, never mind a job.
Then, on top of it all, the rising cost of living makes us ever poorer, yet lack of time and energy forces us to spend more money on things our parents consider luxuries. Like ordering a take-away meal or doing our shopping online, often in a vain attempt to eek out a few moments of leisure time and maintain some semblance of sanity. Even those “fancy” coffees are often take-aways gulped down in a blur between bouts of unavoidable “adulting”. A decent coffee may be the one small positive thing in our day, yet we are begrudged even that.
We aren’t entitled, we are exploited, exhausted and - despite being in our twenties and thirties - we are constantly infantilised for it. This is made all the worse by the fact that the mechanisms in-place to protect us against such exploitation, such as unions, were crippled or even dismantled entirely while we were still in school. Yet our parents see us earning more than they ever could have imagined at that age, and wonder what the problem is. They forget to factor in inflation, or the astronomical rise in house prices or the cost of living. Meaning that, in reality, we are much worse of than our parents at the same age. That’s despite having things they consider “luxuries” like flat screen TVs and mobile phones.
We are performing a constant juggling act to just stay afloat, but we can’t take a break or stop, not even for a moment. Those aren’t balls we are juggling, it’s our lives. And for many of us it’s also our partner’s life and it’s our children’s lives. The consequences of the things we are juggling smashing onto the floor don’t bear thinking about, though worrying about it does keep us awake at night. In-short: yes, we are “The Burnout Generation”, of course we are. How could we not be when the rug has been pulled so thoroughly out from under us?