Young professional women may not relate to the financial struggles their Millennial peers are protesting against during the Occupy movement. After all, these ambitious go-getters are working as doctors, lawyers, engineers and advertising executives, blessed with great salaries, health benefits and paid vacation.
But these women understand the protestors’ frustration and unhappiness over the fact that their lives aren’t supposed to turn out this way. This is why a growing number of young professional women who seem to “have it all” are burning out at work before they reach 30.
These early career flameouts are reflected through the corporate ladder. Today, 53 percent of corporate entry-level jobs are held by women, a percentage that drops to 37 percent for mid-management roles and 26 percent for vice presidents and senior managers, according to McKinsey research. Men are twice as likely as women to advance at each career transition stage. One rationale is that men are more likely than women to do things that help their personal well-being at work, thus negating burnout, according to the Captivate Network. Men are 25 percent more likely to take breaks throughout the day for personal activities, 7 percent more likely to take a walk, 5 percent more likely to go out to lunch, and 35 percent more likely to take breaks “just to relax.”
It seems relaxation is something Millennial women have never experienced. One reason that women are burning out early in their careers is that they have simply reached their breaking point after spending their childhoods developing well-rounded resumes. “These women worked like crazy in school and in college, and then they get into the workforce and they are exhausted,” says Melanie Shreffler of the youth marketing blog Ypulse.
Many also didn’t think of their lives beyond landing the initial first job. “They need to learn life is a marathon, not a sprint,” says Kelly Cutrone, president of People’s Revolution PR and author of "Go Outside If You Need To Cry." Ypulse’s Shreffler adds, “They expected things to be better now that they’ve arrived and made it. But instead they are starting over on the bottom rung and still striving. You can’t see the end of the tunnel because they are so many twists and turns. It’s impossible to see what life will be like in 20 years these days. It’s hard to look just 3-4 years in the future. They don’t know what they are striving for, which makes it really hard to move forward.”
Even those who did plot out their lives past the initial first career have unrealistic expectations about full-time employment. It’s not as if these women expected their jobs to be parties and good times, but many underestimated the actual day-to-day drudgery. “College is nothing more than a baby-sitting service. These students are totally unprepared for the real world. The reality for women who want to work in PR is that they are going to be working with 24 catty [women] who will backstab and compete with them. No one will say thank you. You will eat lunch at 5 p.m. It sucks and it’s hard work,” says Cutrone.
All of this unhappiness has left young women struggling over their next move. Simply quitting or changing careers isn’t an option because the education for their professional jobs has burdened many of them with substantial student debt. Also, while earlier generations may have opted out of the workforce through marriage or motherhood, these paths aren’t viable for these self-sufficient women, who either are still single or unwilling to be fully supported by men.
Instead, Millennial women are tapping into their Type-A personalities to combat this fatigue. “It’s important to analyze what is causing the dissatisfaction,” says Purdue University’s Teri Thompson. “The old adage, ‘Out of the frying pan and into the kettle’ is filled with wisdom: Often we leave a job because of unhappiness and in our zeal to get away, we fall right back into the same traps, the same situations.” Therefore, these women are requesting more flexible schedules or seeking different work responsibilities. Many are turning to therapists and prescription medicines, as well as explore alternative remedies, including acupuncture, yoga, and even psychics.
Ultimately these women are going through the difficult realization that they may have to redefine their goals and come up with different measures of success in order to thrive in the corporate world, says Thompson. “It often takes many years to really understand one’s strengths and where one finds happiness. In a sense, I do think it’s unrealistic to assume a long sought-after job can bring one such happiness that one’s searching is done. We’re all a work in progress; new inputs — from new friends to new places visited — mean we’re constantly changing in our thoughts of what’s desired, what’s possible, what’s fun, what we want to do.”
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