Burnout is leading more employees to turn down promotions

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Welcome to Work Smarter, Fast Company‘s newsletter on career, leadership, and productivity advice. You can sign up to receive this newsletter every week here.

Workers are stressed. Many are being asked to do more with less and adapt quickly to new tasks as AI infiltrates the workplace—all while trying to avoid layoffs. That burnout and stress is leading some young workers to pass on opportunities for promotions or even try to move down the career ladder, says Laura Ashley-Timms, COO of performance consultancy Notion.

“With an estimated 8 out of 10 employees at risk of burnout this year, it’s perhaps no wonder that the younger workforce isn’t buying into the idea that working harder is the only option for employees,” writes Ashley-Timms in a recent article for Fast Company

In search of meaningful work

Ashley-Timms goes on to describe the ways in which managers are having a hard time motivating their younger direct reports. “Managers simply haven’t been given the modern skills to engage this cohort,” she writes. But what do these workers want from their jobs and managers? To put it simply: to find more meaning in their work, and to achieve better work-life balance (or, as some prefer: better work-life integration).

If you’re looking to find more meaning in your job, you should consider a few different factors, suggests Tamara Myles, a positive psychology instructor at the University of Pennsylvania. “Meaningful work lives at the powerful intersection of what I like to call ‘The 3 Cs: contribution, community, and challenge.”

That means finding ways to ensure the work you are doing—whatever it is—has a positive impact on others. It means prioritizing forms of connection, whether that’s participating in an ERG, finding someone on your team with whom you enjoy working closely, or reaching out to a new coworker. Finally, finding opportunities to grow your skill set and take (calculated) risks can help you feel like you’re achieving more. 

But all of these things should not be the responsibility of individual employees. Managers need to do a better job of allowing workers to feel a sense of self-determination and belonging. That requires training managers, and giving them the tools to help coach their direct reports more effectively. “If Gen Zs and millennials had more autonomy, purpose, and inclusion at work, I believe they would feel more excited about contributing to their workplaces, and more eager to progress and ascend the corporate ladder,” writes Ashley-Timms.

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