Is burnout hitting millennial women in PR?

What with social media and a 24-hour news cycles, the job demands are greater than ever. But are women—specifically members of Generation Y—more stressed?


First there’s the normal work routine. Add the 24-hour news cycle, then throw in the social media duties and emails that won’t wait for the morning, and you’ve got a recipe for burnout.

Perhaps that sounds like a day in the life of any PR pro, but the trend is particularly sharp among millennial female professionals, a Forbes.com columnist contends.

The magazine reports that early career flameouts are reflected in the corporate ladder. Some 53 percent of entry-level jobs are held by women, but that drops to 37 percent for mid-management roles and 26 percent for vice presidents and senior managers.

So is burnout particularly bad among female millennials in the PR industry?

Becky Johns, a millennial who works for Cramer-Krasselt as part of the agency PR team, isn’t sure that women are any more at risk of burnout than men. But the industry is a competitive one, particularly for women, and a lot of millennial go-getters feel their lives are in constant overdrive, she says.

Trying to be ‘reliable contributors’

“We want to be viewed as reliable contributors, and … it’s hard to feel like we can just ignore work when we leave the office until we get back the next morning,” she says. “I will admit I’ve had times when I feel like I hadn’t done anything for myself in far too long and my life was becoming a stream of others’ priorities.”

Gini Dietrich, founder and chief executive officer of Arment Dietrich, says she doesn’t entirely agree with Forbes’ perspective. Young women are concerned that they will damage their professional futures if they get married and have children.

“Perhaps that’s why we work really hard in our 20s and early 30s—so that, when those things happen, we’re taken more seriously and not seen as the person who is going to quit our jobs when a major life change happens,” says Dietrich, who describes herself as Generation X. “If that’s the case, I can understand why we’re burning out, but I also don’t think it’s just millennial women.”

She does concur with Forbes’ contention that men take better care of themselves and don’t try to do it all, as many women do.

Jessica Malnik—a “slightly caffeinated, new media crazed, Generation Y professional”—says she, too, has never been fond of generational or demographic stereotypes.

“Burnout has nothing to do with whether you are a man or woman, a college grad or a high school dropout, etc.,” Malnik says. “Instead, burnout happens when people work themselves so ridiculously hard without giving themselves a chance to relax and take mental health breaks.”

Not limited to millennials

Burnout isn’t limited to millennial women, says Catherine Bolton, principal of River Rock Communications and former president of the Public Relations Society of America. For years, she had been spending the week in New York City and returning on the weekends to northeastern Pennsylvania, where her husband remained.

Despite reaching a pinnacle in her industry, she gave that up to open her own shop closer to home.

She is seeing young women struggle with work stress—but then the family/life balance has always been tough for women. She said one of her former interns told her last week that she’d gotten the opportunity to head up her whole department. She turned it down, citing her children.

Besides, everybody’s under the gun in times like these, Bolton says.

“Really, think about it,” she says. “Nowadays everybody’s burning out. Companies are a lot slimmer than they used to be. People are working twice as hard as they ever did. … And you put the new whole social media on top of it, where you’re dealing with individuals now. So you’re responding constantly 24/7.”

April Bolduc, media and employee communications manager at San Diego Gas & Electric and president of the local PRSA chapter, agrees that the 24-hour news cycle creates additional pressures. But she does perceive generational differences.

“For the Gen Xers and the Baby Boomers, they weren’t having to volunteer so that they could have their résumé look better,” Bolduc says. “So I think that’s one of the big differences there, why millennials are feeling such strain as they move into the workforce. I was even talking to our HR department, and they’re seeing that same thing as well.”

How do you prevent burnout?

One way San Diego Gas & Electric has mitigated the stress is to outsource the on-call duties, which had been divided among its seven-member team.

“We don’t have to do that at night, which has relieved the strain on our team in general,” Bolduc says.

Malnik says that as someone who has a Type A personality, “I think the best advice I’ve ever received is to remember to take a break every once in a while.” Take a five-minute walk, an hourlong lunch, or even a week’s vacation, she says.

Johns suggests finding a mentor, which “will help you see around corners and help teach you from experience how to identify burnout signs and re-prioritize your life to get back on track.”

Also, have something else that you do “because your soul is happy when you do it.”

Snap some photos, work your way through a cookbook, or take an enjoyable exercise class, she says.

As for Johns? She spent a summer getting her skydiving license.

Russell Working is a staff writer for Ragan.com.

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