Burnout from workplace stress is at an all-time high since spring 2021, according to new research from Future Forum.
Of 10,243 full-time desk-based workers polled in six countries including the United States and the United Kingdom, over 40% said they are burned out, which the World Health Organization defines as an increased mental distance from one's job, feelings of energy depletion and negativism.
The 42% marks a new record since Future Forum began measuring work burnout in May 2021. At that time, 38% of workers reported burnout.
Two types of people, however, are at a greater risk of burning out than everyone else: women and workers under 30.
Nearly half (48%) of 18-to-29-year-olds said they feel drained compared with 40% of their peers aged 30 and up, while women (46%) reported higher levels of burnout than men (37%).
There's no single reason burnout is hitting women and younger working adults particularly hard, but experts agree that intersecting stressors of the Covid-19 pandemic and economic uncertainties have exacerbated stress and disengagement within these groups.
Gen Z and younger millennials entered the workforce during a global pandemic and amid concerns over rising inflation, recession fears and intense geopolitical conflict.
While these concerns are widespread, stress levels are exceptionally high for young people who feel they have less control and stability in their careers.
"Younger millennials and Gen Z were raised with a lot of pressure to be high achievers, but are starting their careers in a chaotic landscape where they have little autonomy and freedom to find a meaningful, well-paid job," Debbie Sorensen, a Denver-based psychologist, says, pointing to companies' ever-changing return-to-office policies, proliferating layoffs and hiring freezes as leading contributors to burnout.
Workers under 30 are also more likely to have layoff anxiety as newer, less experienced employees are often among the first to be targeted for job cuts, Brian Elliott, the executive leader of Future Forum, notes.
All of this is causing Gen Z and young millennials to be more detached and less fulfilled in their professional lives. According to 2022 data from Gallup, workers under 35 are disengaging from their jobs in much higher numbers than their older cohorts.
Women have reported higher levels of burnout than men for years, a gap that has more than doubled since 2019, Gallup reports.
The explanation for this widening gap can be boiled down to gender inequities: Research has found that women are less likely to be promoted than men yet more likely to head single-parent families and take on unpaid labor – all things that can exacerbate burnout.
In addition, women are more likely to work in low-paid jobs, some of which, like health care and eldercare, have become "extremely stressful" in the wake of the pandemic, Sorensen says.
Elliott also points to the worsening child-care crisis as another factor causing more stress and frustration for women. "A lack of affordable, accessible child care is one of the main reasons women, not men, have to quit or change jobs," he adds.
It took women three years to recover from their pandemic job losses: For the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic began, the number of women in the labor force exceeds pre-pandemic numbers, per the latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By comparison, it took men less than two years to recoup their job losses, the National Women's Law Center reports.
"We haven't had time to recover from the trauma of what we've been through the last few years," Sorensen says. "Women and young people, in particular, are putting an immense amount of pressure on themselves to keep going, keep working, no matter the cost."
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