Book cover, Anne Helen Petersen’s, “Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation”/image from NPR.org

Clueless Boomer offers rude work advice for privileged millennials and Gen Z

Hurtfully mentions the old “work ethic”

Jeffrey Denny

About 46% of Gen Zs and 45% of millennials report feeling burned out due to the ongoing intensity of their job demands and overall work environment — Fortune magazine, citing the Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey.

Despite being disproportionately affected, it is difficult to get an accurate picture of the occupationally-related morbidity and mortality being experienced in the poorest countries of the world — the journal Frontiers in Public Health

Dirty secret:

Just for the joy of irritation, I love reading articles about millennial and Gen Z workplace complaints and demands.

They’re typically written by privileged American millennials and Gen Zs working in top publications and writing about their peers, i.e., speaking for themselves as if for tout le monde.

The Google preview of millennial Anne Helen Petersen’s book, “Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation” asks, “Do you feel like your life is an endless to-do list? Do you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through Instagram because you’re too exhausted to pick up a book?” (Like Petersen’s?)

Aside from this being a plaint that moms actually earn, young adults in poor Burundi, Somalia or Mozambique, in Ukraine and other war-wracked countries, or heck, in struggling U.S. farm, factory and urban communities, aren’t whining in Fortune about their workplace burnout.

My latest sick pleasure is from the Washington Post about “quiet quitting.”

“The term is a bit of a misnomer,” the millennial writer explains, “because quiet quitters aren’t walking away from their jobs. Instead, they’re renouncing hustle culture, quitting ‘the idea of going above and beyond at work.’”

She quotes (who else?) an anonymous TicTok user with 3 million followers.

Quiet quitting is a kind of silent strike, work stoppage or passive resistance, Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener refusing assignments he prefers not to do while refusing to leave.

“The trend is resonating strongly with those Gen Z and millennial knowledge workers fighting to rewrite the rules of the workplace,” the Post writer added, surprising nobody.

Knowledge workers of America, unite!

Unlike Industrial Age robber barons who fought factory worker rights, sensitive Information Age CEOs are traumatized by anything that traumatizes their invaluable talent. They have reasons:

a) the overall labor shortage;

b) the bigger tech talent shortage;

c) the “Great Resignation” and “Great Reset” talent churn; and,

d) the constant threat of anonymous social media trashing that threatens Glassdoor, CSR and ESG ratings and HR complaints for anything that the most highly sensitive workers deem “toxic.” Such as failing to use the “compliment sandwich” that wraps constructive feedback in unctuous praise that trophy generations were hooked on.

Two things about quitting culture puzzle me:

First, it’s tacitly promoted by writers who have jobs, dream jobs, and like most dream jobs are probably stressful, demanding long days plus nights and weekends. Suffering that — often at barely subsistence wage — is how they rose to get those dream jobs. As a former journalist, been there. Maybe they’re warning their bosses?

Second, top Gen Z and Millennial concerns are cost of living and unemployment, the Deloitte survey found. If you’re worried about having enough work to make ends meet, then why would you consider quitting a regular paycheck? Or quitting in place, daring to be fired?

I don’t want to trigger anyone by mentioning the traditional work ethic that most generations of Americans and people around the world embrace, whether they work to live or live to work.

For many privileged young adults, their parents’ and grandparents’ work ethic fed, clothed, housed and put them through college and into decent-paying jobs.

I also don’t mean to be unfair or insensitive to dedicated hard workers who are getting sick from stress. Employers need to take care of their “human capital.” The challenge is to sort invaluable talent that rarely whines from whiners that are rarely invaluable.

In that vein, here’s one Boomer’s clueless, insensitive perspective on several questions the indispensable indulged workforce is asking:

I refuse to work more than 40 hours a week. Or do work that’s outside of my job description without a pay raise or promotion. Will that hurt my career goals?

Not if you want to be stuck in a rut griping while your peers get plum assignments, jobs, raises and promotions — and maybe become your bosses.

I’m smarter than my boss. Why can’t I take his job?

You sure you want it? He probably works more than 40 hours a week managing people who have more self-esteem and ambition than talent and productivity. And when they don’t get the plum assignments, praise, raises or promotions they believe they deserve, they go Bartleby.

Be aware your boss also has a boss riding him. Every boss at every level has a boss, even CEOs who face demanding boards of directors and investors — who also have bosses.

I get emails from my boss — even my colleagues — before 8:30 am and after 5 pm and even on weekends. That’s me time! Why should I answer them?

Don’t! Ignore them. Even if they’re actually urgent and you’re holding up an important project with a tight deadline and screwing your boss, colleagues and the company.

Win-win: You get the healthy work-life balance you deserve, and you’ll make it easier on your employer during the next round of restructuring and “right-sizing.”

A lot of people are sick of working and joining the Great Resignation. Should I?

Yes, absolutely. Your boss and colleagues will appreciate not having you around dragging everyone.

Plus, your parents would love having you move back in and buying your gas and groceries. Especially if they paid your way through college.

Also, you’ll be a revolutionary hero to people who work long hours, even two jobs, without the pay that values their talents or covers their bills, like teachers, hospital staff, and the DoorDash guy who delivers your pizza at your parents’ house (on their credit card).

A lot of people are quitting the grind to become entrepreneurs and start their own marketing firms or become life coaches …

Go ahead! Yay you! Be your own boss!

You’re especially equipped to be a life coach in your 20s or early 30s.

Forget that 90% of startups fail. You’ll be the exception. Especially because your work ethic will suddenly catch fire as you work 100 hours a week including nights, weekends and vacations, answer emails at all hours, deal with quiet-quitting employees if you have any, and barely survive financially.

You’ll still think your boss is an idiot. Any employees might agree.

OK, Boomer, what pearls of wisdom can you bestow to motivate burned-out quiet quitters? What’s the secret to a low-stress yet rewarding career?

First of all, “low-stress yet rewarding” is an oxymoron, a unicorn in any part of life. Yay if you find it.

Second, it helps to recognize your privileges and choices. Take a page from the work ethic of the non-privileged you care about, the Boomers who paved your golden path, and every successful person you admire (or should).

In my career, I’ve certainly been stressed, burned out, and felt like quitting — quietly or loudly. I never did because I started out with nothing and I’m allergic to being broke. The best work advice I’ve ever gotten was the hardest: If you want to succeed, suck it up.

Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer.

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Jeffrey Denny

Jeffrey Denny

A Pullet Surprise-winning writer who always appreciates free chicken.