Recently Harvard Business Review reported on a new survey stating that half of all millennials—and 75 percent of Gen Z—have quit a job for reasons related to mental health. This may make the under-35 set seem flippant: “Ugh, I’m sick of my job. Guess I’ll just quit!” I know first-hand that this is not the case.
When I was 25, I quit my job after a 18 months of fighting an overwhelming wave of depression every day, from the time my alarm clock went off in the morning until the workday ended. I am not a risk-taker by nature. I didn’t have dreams of working for myself, and the thought of not having a steady paycheck terrified me. I certainly didn’t have a savings enough to pay my four-figure monthly New York City rent while I figured out my next move. At the same time, I spent each day completely unhappy and each night applying for new jobs. One night as I was on the phone crying to my mom, she told me I should just quit. “Being this unhappy for $35,000 a year is not worth it,” she told me. “You’re young, don’t have any kids, and all you have to worry about is yourself. This is the time in your life to take chances.” So, I did.
My mental health improved literally immediately after I put my two weeks in. And before my last day even happened, new career opportunities started to come my way. In fact, four short weeks later, I was offered my dream job. I’m not sharing this experience promising this is bound to happen for everyone. I’m not going to tell you to make a vision board and then quit your job because everything you want is sure to suddenly open up to you. But I am saying that I am a living part of the study’s statistic and millennials aren’t quitting their jobs because they “feel like it”; burnout is real, and it’s overwhelming.
Why so many people are experiencing mental health issues from work
According to therapist and anxiety specialist Laura Rhodes-Levin, LMFT, one of the reasons why so many people are experiencing mental health issues that cause them to quit their jobs is because we’ve become a culture of multitaskers, which isn’t sustainable. “Somehow, we’ve gotten to this place of needing to do several things at once to feel productive,” she says.
It’s easy to think of ways this is true: responding to emails during meetings, taking bites of a sandwich while finishing a project, turning a workout into a networking opportunity. I even find myself multitasking when I’m trying to relax, scrolling Instagram on my phone while I watch Netflix; it’s actually become difficult for me to watch an entire episode of anything without absentmindedly touching my phone. Speaking of phones, Rhodes-Levin says being reachable all the time—through texts and emails—has led to burnout culture, too.
Lacking a sense of purpose is part of what made Lily* feel burned out at her job with a major media company. “The actual work wasn’t incredibly taxing, but it wasn’t creative and I didn’t feel an emotional connection to what I was doing at all,” she says. “My employer wasn’t interested in finding ways to make it more [fulfilling]; they just wanted the job done.” Lily says that another reason why she was so unhappy at her job is because she didn’t feel a sense of belonging. “Everyone else seemed so excited to be there and I didn’t, which made me feel really lonely,” she says. Lily stayed until she found another job that allowed her to be more creative, and though she took a significant pay cut, she says she’s much happier now. It was a good move for her.
How to know if you should leave your job—and what to do if you can’t
Rhodes-Levin emphasizes that if your job is affecting your mental health, don’t want until you feel completely drained or depressed to leave. “The same way we do—or at least should do—preventative things for our physical health, we need to take preventative measures with our mental health and not wait until things are really bad to pay attention to it,” she says. Rhodes-Levin says sleeping too little (or too much), having a short fuse, and experiencing increased negative self talk (being too hard on yourself) are all early signs to watch out for.
The way you prevent your job from negatively affecting your mental health is to find one that you actually enjoy and gives you a sense of purpose, says Rhodes-Levin. If you can’t leave your job, she says it’s important to find a way to incorporate this into your life outside of work. “I had a client in a high corporate job who didn’t particularly like his job but didn’t want to leave it because it gave him a sense of security, so he started a health blog on the side,” she says. “Or you may decide to take a class.” With any luck, she says, your side hustle will evolve into a full-time job. Until that happens, it’s important to feel fulfilled somehow in your life, even if it’s not at your 9-to-5.
It’s not surprising to Rhodes-Levin that so many millennials leave their jobs. “People are getting married later now, so there’s a longer life-stage where the only person they’re responsible for is themselves,” she says. To her point, it’s less of a risk when you aren’t a parent to leave your job for the sake of your mental health. But regardless if you’re a parent or not, prioritizing your mental health is important, and shouldn’t wait to be addressed. This is one statistic it actually may benefit to be part of.
*Name has been changed
It’s important to check in with yourself. Here are five mental health questions to ask yourself every day. And these are the mental health tips therapists use on themselves.
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