Millennial burnout.

From Surabhi’s Notepad – A column that brings us personal essays and stories, frivolous and serious, inspired by real-life events and encounters of navigating the world as a young, Indian woman living outside India.

Millennials are living in the era of the Industrial revolution 4.0, in a world disrupted by technology and innovation. While there are a host of perks to these advancements, there is a darker side to the story. 

Recently, I chanced upon Anne Petersen’s viral essay ‘How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation’. The essay explores various aspects of social, economic, and technology-driven developments that have resulted in a generation that is constantly in a state of psychological burnout and physical exhaustion. 

Petersen blames capitalism and the creation of enterprise technology for fostering a world, in which young professionals are helpless and enslaved to their circumstances. While the essay thoroughly diagnoses the problem and describes chronic burnout quite accurately, it does not propose any tangible solutions. Burnout is not a medical condition yet, but it does seem like a common by-product of today’s lifestyle across the world. 

Being a millennial myself by the definition of it – Millenials are people born between the years 1981 and 1996 – I somewhat agree with Peterson’s essay points. However, she paints a rather hopeless picture of the millennials’ role in today’s economy and barely talks about the advantages that the digital has provided us. 

The Necessity to Have a Digital Presence

While millennials are often blamed for being an entitled and lazy generation that spends most of the time glued to digital screens, the emergence of capitalism around an online brand is largely to blame for this. The traditional means of applying for a job like presenting a CV with a cover letter is no longer relevant. LinkedIn, a healthy social media following, and a strong online presence have become mandatory portfolio requirements across various industries. Millennials are forced to build a digital presence and are most of the time exhausted from managing their personal brand online. 

This is even more pertinent for South Asians as the region has the youngest working-age population in the world. On one hand, this provides tremendous opportunity for South Asians to leapfrog their way to development in this new industrial revolution, on the other hand, South Asian millennials are faced with cutthroat competition and challenges.

From media to marketing and business development to human resources, there is barely any industry that has been untouched by technological disruptions. These ever-changing trends force the young generation to remain active and consistent across social media channels.

Eventually, they get addicted to their virtual existence and end up spending hours online, living and updating their fabricated identity. This leads to the first symptoms of burnout, such as tired eyes, laziness, fatigue, back pain, neck pain, and poor eyesight among others.

Work from home.

The Lack of an Office Culture

Another new trend that has emerged and evolved around the globe is the idea of working from home, and this has largely become the norm amidst the ongoing pandemic. While this gives the benefit of being able to work from the comfort of one’s home without having to spend time or energy commuting, it also has a significant disadvantage. The office-hour culture barely exists for the freelancing millennial. Office cubicles have been replaced by smartphones and tablets, blurring the lines between work and home.

Millennials are helpless to the technology that capitalist conglomerates have put in place to maximize their work as they have no ability to set boundaries with their phones and computers. This means that no matter where they are, they are always thinking about work. 

I have been working in a remote setup in Singapore for the last four odd years and every month at least one colleague, including myself, has complained about feeling burnt out or demotivated at work. And, this has nothing to do with the company or the bosses but more to do with the “new normal” where apparently Slack is the new WhatsApp and the boundaries between home and work are increasingly shifting. 

The Self-Help Industry Is Not Helping

In the US alone, self-help is a $10 billion per year business and one of the few industries that did not plummet even during the recession. Petersen highlights in her essay that the self-help industry is actually exploiting the problem that millennials are facing. Therapists and psychiatrists are just serving to erase the feelings temporarily with no permanent solution.

Millennials need genuine guidance and medical attention to tackle depression and stress. It is no surprise that cases of mental health challenges are increasing day by day among youth all over the world, especially in the South Asian immigrant community. Studies demonstrate that South Asian immigrants are experiencing high rates of mental health disorders, which often go unaddressed. Like many immigrant groups, South Asians are susceptible to psychological distress due to migration, subsequent pressures to acculturate, and other social determinants that have a significant impact on functioning and quality of life.

What begins with stress eventually leads to depression and burnout. We need a global political revolution, overhauling capitalism, to tackle this situation. 

The work grind.

The Idea of a Perfect Life Has Changed

Another important factor that comes into play is the evolved idea of a perfect life. For example, a successful career used to be defined by a decent salary but that is not the case anymore. Millennials don’t want to work just to earn money. They strive for something that they are passionate about. They challenge conventions on an everyday basis and follow their heart. The same applies to their health. Two decades ago, eating three healthy meals a day was enough. Now, having a healthy lifestyle implies going to the gym regularly, running after work, and eating kale. The idea of a perfect life has changed and how! Expectations are larger than life today. Everything is about being hyper-healthy, super-fit, over-the-top-fashionable, and globally relevant. It is exhausting.

According to Petersen’s essay, the core of the millennial culture is rooted in economic desperation that is further exacerbated by invasive technology. She calls out millennials for choosing the unstable career path and their lack of work-life balance. However, I feel that she fails to consider that this very same technology has provided the young generation with many options and a wider perspective. In these changing times, the appeal of settling down with a partner or having one stable job has become less essential. The reasons why millennials are burning out is not something that can be so simply summarized.

In the end, it falls upon millennials themselves to figure out a way where they can balance their ambitions, expectations, and reality to maintain a healthy life with the desired lifestyle. 

Surabhi Pandey, a former Delhi Doordarshan presenter, is a journalist based in Singapore. She is the author of ‘Nascent Wings’ and ‘Saturated Agitation’ and has contributed to over 15 anthologies in English and Hindi in India and Singapore. She writes on topics related to lifestyle and travel and is an active reporter on the tech startup ecosystem in Southeast Asia. She is the editor and founder of The Vent Machine– an online magazine that covers lifestyle and travel stories. Website | LinkedIn | Instagram


Surabhi, a former Delhi Doordarshan presenter, is a journalist based in Singapore. She is the author of ‘Nascent Wings’ and ‘Saturated Agitation’ and has contributed to over 15 anthologies in English...