When Anne Helen Petersen (2019) published her seminal Buzzfeed News article on millennial burnout, 2 voices rose up in response: one of joyous relief that someone had finally validated their life experiences (Griffith, 2019) and one of critical judgment about the inferiority of the aforementioned generation (Cohen, 2019). Millennials are lazy. Millennials are entitled. Millennials are weak. These are common descriptions of a generation who are on the cusp of being leaders in business, education, government and every sector of our economy. Since this generation inherited its infamous name, it’s been viewed as a group of shallow, smartphone-obsessed, selfie-taking children who refuse to move out of their parents’ basements and cannot manage the basic functions of everyday life (Petersen, 2019).
By indulging in this narrative, we are ignoring the reality of who this generation is today. They are no longer children, but adults, the oldest of which are 38, and they now make up a majority of the American workforce (Fry, 2018). They are looking to advance personally and professionally just like generations before them.
They are also overworked, always on and suffering from rampant burnout. 7 in 10 millennials report feeling its effects some of the time, more than any other generation of workers (Pendell, 2018). Continual put downs of their characters are serving to make these exhausted workers buckle down out of fear rather than take care of themselves. They have come of age in a professional world in which culture and technology are conspiring against them, yet they continually, to their own peril, practice the mantra that they can overcome if only they try hard enough (Cohen, 2019).
Employers and leaders must help them to work smarter and not simply harder. By promoting the practice of deep work popularized by computer scientist Cal Newport (2016) amongst their workers, companies can help heal and prevent this problem. Deep work offers solutions to the unique challenges faced by millennials by breaking addiction to distraction caused by technology, creating office culture that deemphasizes low value modes of work and teaching how self-care and productivity are not mutually exclusive.
Without the support of deep work, not only is productivity being left on the table because of unhealthy and misguided choices in how work is done, but the future productivity of businesses and the overall economy are at risk. This paper aims to create a better understanding of the problem of millennial burnout and how the practice of deep work can bring necessary change to work culture before the biggest source of power in our economy exhausts itself at a game it simply cannot win.
Cohen, J. (2019, February 23). Millennial burnout is real, but it touches a serious nerve with critics. Here’s why. NBC News. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/ millennial-burnout-real-it-touches-serious-nerve-critics-here-s-ncna974506
Fry, R. (2018, April 11). Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force. Pew Research
Center. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/11/millennials-largest-generation-us-labor-force/
Griffith, E. (2019, January 26). Why are young people pretending to love work? The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/26/business/against-hustle-culture-rise-and-grind-tgim.html
Newport, C. (2016). Introduction. In Deep Work: Rules for focused success in a distracted world. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing.
Pendell, R. (2018, July 19). Millennials Are Burning Out. Gallup. Retrieved from
Petersen, A.H. (2019, January 5). How millennials became the burnout generation. BuzzFeed News. Retrieved from https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/annehelenpetersen/millennials-burnout-generation-debt-work