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by Amanda Riojas via Fairygodboss | September 27, 2017


girl on phone

According to the American Psychological Association, millennials are the most stressed out generation ever. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the unhappiness and uncertainty that millennial women experience toward their profession are leading them to hit career burnout before age 30.

Burnout is described in the ICD-10 as a “state of vital exhaustion.” It includes emotional exhaustion or fatigue, depersonalization, isolation and dissatisfaction with one's level of personal accomplishment. Burnout is related to chronic stress and often exhibited as cynicism. Over the last several years, much discussion has been focused on whether burnout should be considered a stand-alone illness, but it is not currently recognized on its own as a mental disorder.

Reputable medical sources (including Mayo Clinic and Psychology Today) are available and provide short guides to detecting and self-diagnosing burnout, but some careers are more prone to burnout than others … particularly for women. Here are a few career paths to keep an eye on, as they currently lead in female employee burnout:

1. Journalism

The University of Kansas has performed two studies on burnout and job satisfaction in journalism, one in 2009 and a follow-up in 2015. Not only did they find that newsrooms are getting less diverse when it comes to gender, but in the first study, 62 percent of women stated that they were uncertain about a future in their careers or intended to leave journalism. That number increased to 67 percent in the 2015 study.

This trend means that fewer women will continue on this career path, which leads to fewer women in management positions, an increase in “second shift” role overload and a lack of organizational support. Combined, these symptoms indicate that burnout is likely to continue to increase in the future.

2. Academic STEM Careers

As with journalism, a study from the University of North Dakota found that women in university science departments experience higher levels of burnout in comparison to their male counterparts. The Times Higher Education posits that this may be one reason why women may leave in favor of careers outside of academia.

Daphne Pederson, professor of sociology at UND, stated that women in STEM are more likely to face the pressure of tokenism, in addition to the isolation and lack of support that is common in job-related burnout. Times Higher Education wrote that women who do leave academia are not likely to experience burnout in their new career, implying that the new employers provide more access to support and are more successful in making women feel fulfilled by their work. Burnout likely plays a role in the “leaky pipeline” effect, and we should encourage employers to more closely examine the effect of burnout on talent retention.

3. Medicine

Of the three career paths, this is the one that indicated a direct relationship between burnout and maternal discrimination. In a survey of almost 6000 members of Physician Moms Group (PMG), more than 75 percent of respondents had experienced gender discrimination, maternal discrimination or both. In this study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the rate of burnout was determined to be higher with women who experienced maternal discrimination. As with journalism and academic STEM careers, these problems indicate that an unsupportive social structure, driven by cultural norms, is contributing to burnout; especially since the ratio of men to women attending medical school is now equal.

In these three careers, specific consideration can be made to ensure female burnout isn’t mistaken for a “leaky pipeline.” Managers and human resources departments need to step up and recognize that this is a talent retention problem; when a company improves focus on providing stronger support, employee satisfaction improves. By developing new ways to shift cultural norms and improve communication, employers will be helping a new generation of women to find fulfillment in their careers.

Dr. Amanda G. Riojas is a Scientific Computing Researcher living in Austin, Tex. She is also the Advice Section Editor for the Scientista Foundation Advice Blog, Liaison to the Corporation Associates Committee of the American Chemical Society, and Chair of the ACS Central TX Local Section Women Chemists Committee. 

This post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, which helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice.