Young Professionals often experience persistent tension, also called stress. Research by the ArboNed (2015) showed that 33% of the long-term absence in the past year had to do with stress-related complaints such as heart palpitations, especially among workers between 25 and 34 years old. About ten years ago there was a similar trend in absence due to mental illness for employees between 35 and 44 years old. This means that the absence due to mental illness shifts to an ever-younger age category. Stress complaints were found to be the main cause of absence of employees under 25 years old. And they are just starting their careers.
After a while, stress-related complaints can also develop into a burnout. A burnout consists of three components, namely: exhaustion, cynicism and reduced confidence. More and more Young Professionals experience this feeling of burnt out. As it turned out, in 2013 about 13.8% of workers between 25 and 29 years suffered from burnout symptoms such as memory problems (TNO, 2013). This percentage was increased to 14.6% in 2014 (TNO, 2014). This year we speak of a percentage of 16.6%. For young people with a flexible work contract we are even talking about 19% (TNO, 2015).
Why do especially Young Professionals experience so much stress and burnout?
Young Professionals would belong to the generation with the limitless possibilities. That this doesn’t mean there are only advantages, is demonstrated by the above mentioned figures on stress and burnout of these young workers. Why is it that limitless possibilities are also detrimental? The following are a number of reasons:
As there are so many possibilities, is it also not difficult to make choices? It appears that this is indeed the case and the flexible, opportunistic society often leads to the following phenomenon: choice stress. This choice stress consists of the fear of making the wrong choices, for example choices about taking the right career path. Young Professionals mention they find it hard to make decisions in terms of their career and they sometimes even feel guilty about this luxury. They ask themselves the question: ‘With all this freedom and all these opportunities, shouldn’t I actually be satisfied and happy?’. However, the fear of making all-determining choices you’re stuck with the rest of your life can suffocate. Because that is the way many Young Professionals think: that their choices are decisive for the rest of their lives. And because there are so many choices, a ‘good’ choice is no longer ‘good enough’. There is this feeling that everything you do should be fun. Besides, that’s what Young Professionals hear from an early age: do what you like. Leading a life that is ‘fun’ is actually not a self-made choice anymore, it is has become an obligation. If one doesn’t find everything fun and meaningful about his/her job, one soon begins to wonder whether he/her is cut out for the job. The period of identity development and therefore uncertainty and fear of failure is longer than ever because of this. ‘In a world with a million options you expect that whatever you choose is just perfect. And anything that doesn’t meet your expectations makes you feel you have failed.’
In addition, it is currently very difficult to find a job. Let alone a job that suits your own ambition and competence. That’s why it is often said that young workers are ‘stuck’ in a job that does not meet the expectations that they had before they started their careers. They must, however, continue to develop and build a social network to maintain their position in the labor market. Because being unemployed isn’t an option for most. Many Young Professionals have the idea that you have to have made it before your thirties. They want their dream job as quickly as possible. The rush probably comes largely because of the fact that viewing the successful life of peers has become more accessible by the digitization of our world (think of social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram). Young Professionals see their successful peers as competitors, making them work hard not to fall behind. However, working hard isn’t always granted because of the ‘practice shock’ starters experience. This implicates that Young workers initially struggle with the transition from study to work: connecting theory to practice. As a result, it turns out that Young Professionals are not only unsure about finding a job. They are also unsure about retaining the job they might have.
The paradox of authenticity
Because of the before mentioned job insecurity, Young Professionals need to distinguish themselves to get a job. But in the meantime, everyone is also constantly comparing themselves to each other. Authenticity (originality) is what we strive for, but what we do will only have value when our environment is accepting of it. There can be spoken of a paradox, in which (once again) social media plays a prominent role. You might recognize the compulsive tendency to use social media such as Facebook to display how special it is what we are currently doing, while this actually shows that we need the recognition of others. In this way our pursuits are not really authentic anymore, because it exists only in comparison to others. This way, we aim for what others impose on us instead of what we really want. This can cause more confusion and uncertainty for Young Professionals. They wonder: who or what am I really? Work life asks Young Professionals to distinguish themselves, but because of the paradox of authenticity (especially by social media) it has become more and more difficult nowadays.
Perfection as a goal
Because the current generation of Young Professionals is told to do what they have always wanted to do (even though in reality it appears to be imposed by others), they are all the more miserable now if they have to work hard for a job they don’t feel passionate about. The enthusiasm they had directly after obtaining their diploma, disappears. Many Young Professionals experience the limitless possibilities and opportunities more and more as a liability. That’s because as an individual you are not only responsible for your own successes, but also for your own failures. The bar for ‘normal’ behavior has been set so high already that Young Professionals have to give the extra effort not to lag behind. It isn’t a question of whether you are good, but whether you’re the best: talent must be filtered out. As a result, there is less and less room for error. Striving for success and perfection seems to have become the norm.
In conclusion, Young Professionals increasingly suffer from stress and burn-out. To openly admit this still appears to be a taboo. Asking for help goes a step too far for many Young Professionals. We live with values such as self-reliance nowadays, which makes us feel like we have to solve problems like stress and burn-out by ourselves as well. Young Professionals are the generation with the limitless possibilities; they would be able to save themselves. This way Young Professionals end up in a vicious circle of stress (and burn-out).
There’s a need to take some first steps to break this vicious circle. Let’s (finally) start!