Choosing an occupation is an increasingly difficult undertaking for most of the generation currently entering the job market. Among the many challenges that millennials face, such as student debt, unaffordable housing markets, and smashed avo, a fast-changing labour market is one of the most significant.
This generation is confronting seismic shifts in modern labour markets that are altering decades of precedent regarding what it means to hold a job. Shared workspaces, increased freelance, and the casualisation and automation of many jobs are labour trends that are coming to define the future of work. Casualisation can most easily be explained as the shift of certain types of work from full-time or permanent positions to predominantly contract or casual labour. However, the optimism around these developments should also heed their still largely unknown psychological and economic impacts, especially on those just entering the job market.
In a post-GFC era of increased labour mobility compared to the past, it seems unlikely that a ‘job’ means the same thing it did to our parents and past generations. Millennials are less likely to be in the same job five years from now, and are frequently cited as enjoying the ability to move between jobs, or change careers more often. Looking closely, they seem to be the ideal group to take advantage of the growth in shared workspaces and freelance opportunities. This is especially important when it is estimated that over 50 percent of some developed economy workforces could involve some degree of freelance by 2050.
However, despite all these positive benefits, this debate has also reflected wider concerns about rising inequality, wage stagnation, and whether shifts in freelance and casualisation levels will exacerbate these growing problems.
The growing independence that results from the rising uptake of freelance work and shared workspaces also promises to bring a positive change to many aspects of work. In an era where wellness and well-being are the health trends of the moment, an increased work and life balance is a benefit of what can be offered by these new trends.
The growth of shared workspaces and the inexorable rise of new and existing shared workspace providers such as WeWork, Servcorp and Regus are some of the biggest corporate faces of the future of work. However, despite all the technological disruption of the past two decades, it remains remarkable that we are only just beginning to see the growth of shorter work weeks and more flexible work arrangements, fulfilling to an extent, John Maynard Keynes’ 1930 vision of his Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren.
From a psychological standpoint, shared workspaces are the manifestation of the upsides and benefits of new labour trends. Their selling points in recent years have been built on solving one of the biggest issues for freelancers: isolation. As a result, the promise of community has become the secret ingredient for the shared workspace industry. Creating networks and a sense of community in these spaces has been important to broadening the appeal of both freelance work and shared workspaces to industries and groups as diversified as creatives, to independent business consultants. This has been crucial to countering criticism that shared workspaces are just another manifestation of the ‘gig economy’ of work. With Harvard studies showing that traditional corporate workspaces can lead to a 60 percent reduction in inter-office interaction, an increase in communication could spur greater psychological benefits, productivity, and ultimately innovation.
The thing is that while shared office spaces, freelance, and new ways of working present strong opportunities, they also come at a time of increased inequality and disconnection caused by broader technological and economic trends. Casualisation is a significant manifestation of this and it has become one of the darker sides of the changing labour dynamics. This is one of the most visible changes to traditional definitions of a job, as for many it means losing financial stability and the security of things such as healthcare and leave. Casualisation is lauded by many as a means of increasing flexibility, but it has also been seized on by companies of the new tech economy, such as Uber, Deliveroo and others to lower operating costs. Coming at a time when a growing percentage of graduates feel increasingly uncertain about their prospects, these dynamics feed into concerns about what kinds of work they will be able to find and whether there are increased opportunities for mobility or rising incomes.
While these trends look set to both remain and intensify, the question remains: how will society and policymakers react to them? Will government and society work to harness the future of work as a powerful and beneficial force? Or will we only be reactive to their impacts? For now, the answer is predicted to unfold as these trends continue. There is no denying that the nature of work is changing drastically, so constructively embracing its positive upsides will be an important part of countering any future psychological and economic negatives.
Burnout—the feeling of mental and physical exhaustion—is on the rise, particularly in millennials, and in a time of hyper-connectivity and the ‘hustle’, it’s more important than ever to spot the signs and regain a positive work-life balance. Not doing so could cause problems like ‘errand paralysis’, a condition of being unable to cope with the most basic tasks due to mounting anxiety, which Anne Helen Peterson discusses in her then viral Buzzfeed article. As she writes, “I’d put something on my weekly to-do list, and it’d roll over, one week to the next haunting me for months.”
Peterson’s essay on millennial burnout provoked a wide range of responses, including Josh Cohen’s article published at NBCNews. In the article, he examines some of the factors that may be contributing to burnout in millennials, such as the ‘ego ideal’ and the influences of modern culture. Research from the BBC backs up the phenomenon of millennial burnout, describing it as “not just another snowflake issue”, as does The Guardian’s article written by Dawn Foster. We know that burnout is real, but what can we do to about it?
Well, let’s start with the obvious. We need to take a good look at our relationship with technology. Social media contributes to feelings of burnout, according to Peterson, because much of what appears online portrays others as successful, reminding millennials of the work they must do to reach that standard. Interestingly, studies have shown that heavy technology use is linked to fatigue and stress in young adults, which means taking daily breaks from our screens should be a priority. Because millennials have grown up in a day and age where the internet has given them access to masses of information, they’ve been hard-wired to expect efficiency and convenience.
With thousands of apps at our fingertips, millennials have never had to wait for anything, so it’s no surprise that many young adults feel impatient, and as a result are working harder and faster, burning out in the process. While we can’t change the conditions in which we grew up, we can reassess how we engage with technology to ensure it’s not having any negative effects.
But what about tackling burnout in the office? Executive coach and keynote speaker, Monique Valcour said that “altering your perspective” to view the work in a more positive way is one of the best methods to manage stress. I’ve often found that work becomes more stressful when you overthink it, or when you become too focused on the outcome. Of course, achieving any goal is important but actually enjoying the process makes you more in tune with the work and less worried about the end result. Once we learn to appreciate and focus on the process, start-to-finish, the work can become more fulfilling, reducing the chance of burning out.
Arguably, the greater sense of an urgency that many millennials feel has been exasperated by the rise of hustle culture, an almost cult-like trend being pushed on young people, which advocates that working non-stop is the only way to be successful. A lot of millennials are quite ambitious, and that’s what makes us particularly vulnerable to this kind of movement, as evidenced by Peterson’s account. “Why am I burned out?” she writes. “Because I’ve internalised the idea that I should be working all the time.” I’m not against working hard or being dedicated to your passion but it should never be at the expense of your well-being. There’s no point hustling to the point of exhaustion or taking work so seriously that it becomes mentally draining. Simply put, quit hustling if it makes you feel miserable because no side-project in the world is worth burning out over.
It’s no secret the way we work is changing and many of us in the millennial generation juggle multiple jobs, making good communication all the more important. It’s often said that millennials need continuous feedback at work, which again reflects how millennials are used to speed and transparency. In stressful times, we should embrace our own nature of expecting constant communication by reaching out to people (in the real world) for support. After all, collaboration makes it easier to solve problems and a network of strong relationships could ease the pressure.
Ultimately, burnout is a sign that you need to slow down and reset. While I agree with the central argument in Peterson’s essay, her assumption that burnout is an unsolvable experience is tough to accept—because I think most of us just need to change the way we think. In short, having the right frame of mind is key, so it’s time to fight back, take control and actively manage your time to get past burnout for good.