How Emerging Professionals Can Avoid Burnout

By Rose Yoo June 2, 2023

​According to a recent survey by SHRM Research, 27% of Generation Z workers say their job has made them feel depressed at least once a week in the last six months. Additionally, a study released this year by the Mary Christie Institute and its partners found that nearly 40% of young professionals (defined as college-educated employees ages 22-28) believe their workplace adversely impacts employee well-being, while 45% say their work has taken a negative toll on their own mental health in the previous year. 

Burned-Out Generation Z

Burnout is prevalent among recent graduates and may be affecting their career trajectories. The Mary Christie Institute-led research found that 42% of young professionals who experience burnout at least weekly plan to leave their job within the next 12 months, compared to 32% of young professionals overall.

Common Causes 

Among younger professionals, burnout is primarily caused by "a high workload or unrealistic job expectations," says Tameka Lockhart-Spann, learning and people operations manager at Nonprofit HR in Washington, D.C.

Similarly, Amy Wallace, vice president of learning and organizational development at Members 1st Federal Credit Union in Enola, Pennsylvania, notes, "Many young professionals are very set on making a name for themselves and getting promoted." However, "they set unrealistic expectations for career growth at a pace that isn't possible," causing them to lose sight of work/life integration, which leads to burnout. 

Other factors contributing to workplace burnout in this age group are "a lack of job satisfaction, a lack of support from managers and an overall feeling of disconnect or isolation," Lockhart-Spann says.

In addition, Wallace says she's met several emerging professionals "who don't yet respect the fact that a healthy career requires a focus on well-being across a variety of spaces."

Common Signs 

While symptoms of burnout vary per individual, Janice Litvin, a professional speaker on burnout and the author of Banish Burnout Toolkit, says "trouble sleeping, trouble eating, and feelings of detachment or disconnect" are physical and mental symptoms commonly seen in burned-out emerging professionals.

Along with physiological symptoms of "headaches, muscle tension or anxiety," Lockhart-Spann also notes that "decreased motivation, productivity and job performance" are telltale signs of burnout. 

3 Ways to Prevent Burnout

Litvin notes that younger professionals demand the most meaning and purpose from their jobs and often have more-intense feelings about their work, compared with older professionals.

"They want to excel and do whatever it takes to succeed and progress," she says. "Sometimes that means saying yes to any request by any boss."

But while we all want to do a good job, it shouldn't be at the expense of our mental health. Below are some strategies to avoid burnout.

1. Pursue Learning and Development Opportunities

Taking advantage of the learning and development (L&D) resources offered by your company is one effective measure for avoiding burnout. "At the core of learning is an element of self-reflection," Wallace says. Self-reflection then "begets self-awareness, which becomes a powerful tool when interacting with others, applying new learning and moving your career forward." 

Lockhart-Spann says pursuing L&D opportunities can mean accessing workshops, courses or coaching sessions, but these offerings should also "be focused on mindfulness, stress reduction and self-care." Not only can your organization's L&D department help you work on attaining flexibility and work/life balance, it can also help you avoid burnout by providing "resilience training, soft skills development, leadership development and mental health resources through the company Employee Assistance Program," she says.

Propose L&D resources

If an employer doesn't provide L&D resources, Litvin says emerging professionals can propose adding them in two ways.

"First, write a business case for ways this training would enhance [a leader's] work and productivity in their current position," she says. "Leadership, mental health and other soft skills can always be applied to any job." 

The second way involves you first completing a course and presenting the certificate and invoice to your boss to demonstrate your commitment to improving in a particular area. Ask for reimbursement for the class and share how what you learned would enhance your work and benefit the organization. 

2. Practice Setting Boundaries 

"It is OK to say no," Litvin reassures emerging professionals, "especially when you are starting to feel stressed from overwork." She urges them "to put your foot down, because the more you say yes, the more you will be asked to do."

Nonetheless, setting boundaries with upper management remains challenging for many professionals, especially emerging ones, since younger employees may feel lost or unsure about how to approach the topic. The main thing is to always be professional in your tone and actions and remain tactful. 

Communicate effectively

To establish healthy boundaries with upper management, effective communication is essential. This will prompt work discussions that "build meaningful relationships where you are allowed to express when you are feeling overwhelmed," Wallace says.

Litvin adds that managers may not realize how busy you are, and they won't know if you don't tell them.

Lockhart-Spann explains, "As you communicate with upper management, you must be clear, direct and professional." By "providing specific examples of how your workload is impacting your ability to perform your job duties effectively," you can communicate your job expectations upfront.  

Emerging professionals should also "be open to feedback and suggestions from upper management and collaborate to find solutions that work for all parties involved," she says.

Put proactive measures in place 

Practicing boundary-setting underscores the importance of putting proactive measures in place as you get to know your co-workers early on. Litvin emphasizes the need to build relationships with other members of your team so you can "ask these more senior teammates how they have navigated through setting their own healthy boundaries and how they've established relationships with upper management."

More importantly, Litvin encourages emerging professionals to spend time with their own manager or another leader. This could mean you invite your boss for a walk, a cup of coffee or lunch so you can have a conversation outside of the office. Discuss your projects, and be sure to "ask your boss a lot of questions about expectations and how to thrive and succeed without burning out," she says.

In addition, since company leaders often get involved with companywide efforts and philanthropic activities, Litvin advises emerging professionals to attend these events as well to introduce themselves to higher-ups and "let them know how much you like working at the company and that you just wanted an opportunity to get to know them better." 

3. Prioritize Self-Care 

As you assess work/life priorities, "if you can determine that the stress is from a lack of clarity about your role or your deliverables, you can address that with your management," Wallace says.

However, "if you feel the stress is due to a myriad of circumstances, be sure to focus on your well-being," she says. Self-care "can include physical exercise, mindfulness activities, and other stress-reduction activities." But ultimately, it means prioritizing your wellness and advocating for your needs.

Likewise, Lockhart-Spann urges emerging professionals who feel burned out to immediately focus on self-care. "[I]t is important to take time away from work, in which you can rejuvenate, recharge and reflect on your goals," she says. This could mean taking a vacation, having a longer lunch break or simply heading out earlier than normal. 

When emerging professionals feel overwhelmed at work, Wallace recommends they take a life inventory to prepare a plan before burnout occurs. "This means examining why you are feeling stressed: Do you have personal circumstances that are contributing to your stress level? Or is it your workload that's stressful or is there a lack of a clear path forward to produce the deliverables?" she explains. Constantly self-assess by asking yourself these types of questions to avoid overworking or overextending yourself. 

Taking care of yourself can help you feel more motivated and energized at work. Overall, these steps together can help emerging professionals who may already feel burned out regain their motivation to continually learn and develop in their careers.

Another Resource To Avoid Burnout

Available from the SHRMStore, Banish Burnout Toolkit by Janice Litvin teaches emerging professionals how to successfully pursue continual learning and development without experiencing burnout. This book is eligible for SHRM recertification credits. 



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