Late 20s culture is many things: your friends all getting married when you can’t even get a second date, your idea of cooking beginning and ending with boiling water to make pasta, and wondering at what age you officially have to start making your own doctors appointments. But probably the biggest aspect of late 20s culture is being stressed. Stressed about dating, stressed about work, stressed about the fact that our planet might be beyond repair and we may all die very soon in the real-life incarnation of 28 Days Later. And it’s no wonder we’re all stressed about work: college tuition has more than doubled since the 1980s, leaving many millennials saddled with debt ($17,126 per graduate who took out loans) that nearly half say wasn’t worth it. On top of that, millennials are underemployed, comprising 52% of hourly low-wage employees (yet about 61% attended college). More than half of millennials have a side hustle. Given all that information, it’s safe to say that we as a generation spend a lot of time thinking (worrying) about employment and money. So it should be no surprised that “burnout”, a syndrome that results from chronic workplace stress, is not only an official term, but now an actual medical condition, according to the World Health Organization.
Late 20s culture is calling yourself an alcoholic who will never find love, but getting low-key offended when people tag you in memes about binge drinking and being alone forever
— sarafcarter (@sarafcarter) May 9, 2019
Do you feel that? That’s probably a weight getting lifted off your shoulders now that there’s an actual term for the crushing pressure you’ve been feeling for years. Or maybe that’s just me.
So, first of all, the fact that the WHO classified burnout as a real medical condition is a pretty big deal. Many look to the WHO for guidance, and since they included burnout in their latest handbook for recognized medical conditions (called the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health), it gives legitimacy to people who experience burnout. Think of it this way: the next time I cry to my dad about being overworked at my job
(when really I’m just having a bad Adderall comedown), and he tells me that I need to do something to manage my stress, I can be like, “look, I have an actual medical condition and it’s not just stress”.
In other words, if you are actually experiencing burn-out, it’s important that the actual condition is recognized by the WHO so people don’t dismiss you as just being “stressed” or “tired” or “on your period”. Because, first of all, burnout only refers to the concept in the occupational context, so like, going on too many dates and being tired of searching for a romantic partner doesn’t qualify as burnout in the medical sense. It also has three qualifications to meet the definition:
1) Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion,
2) Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, or
3) Reduced professional efficacy
Cool, so I am like, 99% positive that I suffer from burnout right now. Or at least, that I have definitely suffered from it in the past (I go through those symptoms in waves). So the question is: What do I (or you, since you are reading this article) do about it?
In short, nothing really, right now. In theory, you could go to the doctor and get diagnosed with burnout (ruling out other similarly manifesting conditions, such as adjustment disorder, anxiety, or depression, The Cut notes). But then what? Can I use that to request extended time off, like would it qualify under short-term disability coverage? Can I get a Xanax prescription for it? (Kidding.)
Of course, burnout being classified as a medical condition by the WHO is a good thing, especially since, as the last two symptoms imply, it is bad for employers as well as employees. That might be the only way to get employers to actually care—to make it clear that overworking their employees can affect their own bottom line. It remains to be seen just what the impact will be of burnout being recognized as a medical condition, but, much like Instagram removing like counts, it’s better than nothing, and fixing our overly demanding corporate culture has to start somewhere.
Do you ever put a bullshit task on your to-do list just so you can feel like you accomplished something? Like “empty out trash folder” is not an accomplishment but it’s where I’m at today
— Betches (@betchesluvthis) March 15, 2019
Images: sarafcarter, betchesluvthis / Twitter; whenshappyhr / Instagram