Welcome to the Generation Burnout epidemic


Would owning a business save you from career burnout or make it worse?

If you read about burnout, you could be forgiven for thinking that Millennials have claimed the condition as their own. Naturally, however, Gen Y is not the only age group affected by burnout.

Burnout has little to do with when you were born, but more to do with your work-life balance and life circumstances. 

Welcome to Gen B – Generation Burnout.

Thinking of owning a business, would you be successful?

Does burnout exist?

The World Health Organization (WHO) included burnout in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon. Interestingly they do not classify burnout as a medical condition.

The WHO says:

“Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.

Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

The WHO is careful to exclude the phenomena from “other areas of life” and neatly confines the burnout syndrome to work.

Does this WHO description sound like common sense?

While the WHO excludes other areas of life in their definition, common sense tells us that this is very hard to do in practice.

Work-life balance plays a significant role in many people’s lives, and the lines between work and “life” are blurred.

We can’t dictate what goes around and around in our head. It certainly is not a simple work to end at 5 pm option in our “settings menu”.

Is work-life balance an urban myth?

Much of the burnout content seems to be Millennial biased, and its also employee biased. Employees feel that they no longer can work 9-5 and then relax into “life-mode”, cleanly leaving work behind.

My own experience from running businesses as both an employee and a business owner is that its not possible to switch from “work” to “life”.

After all, work is a very significant and integral part of our life.

Any unresolved concerns from work often nag in our minds and stray into our private life and vice-versa.

We take issues from home to work with us as well.

The pace of life and constant access via our digital devices means that we are almost invariably “available” even if we are physically not at work.

Managers probably feel this most as they are responsible for resolving business issues to achieve key performance indicators. The faster a manager can find a solution, the faster they can stop worrying. I used to spend holidays mentally crunching through solutions for business issues.

Does work-life balance exist for a business owner?

As a business owner, concerns can become overwhelming and sleepless nights can be all too common.

Owners are ultimately responsible for finding solutions to all the problems in their business.

Work-life balance for business owners and employees is, therefore, quite different. A business owner cannot escape their business as long as they own it. Employees can always resign and get another job.

Successful business owners exhibit a different work-life balance mindset to employees and are perhaps more willing to accept the intrusion of work into home life.

Who gets burnout?

While members of Gen Y have tried to lay claim to burnout, my experience is that it has little to do with age and more to do with work-life balance and life circumstances. I describe the group as Generation Burnout (Gen B) since Gen B can be any generation.

While work pressures inevitably have a massive input, issues outside of work are also at play, such as financial insecurity or emotional turmoil.

Discontentment in life can challenging for us as we don’t have a counterbalance to deal with work stress.

I have spoken to plenty of people who are older than Millennials who fit the criteria of the phenomenon, both employees and business owners.

How might we describe burnout?

People describe feeling stressed, fatigued, mentally, and emotionally worn-out, trapped by their circumstances and somewhat depressed at not seeing any way to change their situation.

Their perception stems from enduring their situation over an extended period.

A holiday or break does not stop the feeling as it appears more deep-rooted than merely being tired.

Life has lost its sparkle, and drudgery has become dominant for them.

It might be a feeling of falling short against milestones that arbitrarily suggest whether we are successful.

A feeling of failure against the “ideal life” lurks in the background.

These feelings test our resilience to life and what it throws at us.

Why is this epidemic growing?

We are exposed to societal expectations that surround us with subliminal messages. 

Social media connections and the internet bombard us with the best snippets of other peoples’ perfect lives as our benchmark.

The benchmark continually changes, and so we are under pressure to keep abreast of trends and not look out of touch. These silent and insidious messages cause us to compare and rank our apparent deficiencies.

How do you measure up against the ideal life?

We are supposed to post a blow by blow account of our ideal lives and how we are:

  • financially successful with no future insecurity for us or our family
  • confident in ourselves, our purpose in life and feel fully satisfied
  • have perfect relationships with our partners, kids and step-kids
  • masters at living complicated personal lives without it affecting us
  • healthy, well-hydrated, attractive, fashionable and always positive
  • an expert on world cuisine, regularly cooking impressive new dishes perfectly
  • attend the right gym and have personal experience of Crossfit
  • have a secret recipe for blending a unique green, healthy drink
  • environmentally aware and engaged but not too much
  • able to shop, clean, iron and run our lives invisibly in our free-extra time while not forgetting to walk the dog
  • sleeping at least 8 hours a night having read a personal development book
  • facing no health challenges that positive thinking won’t cure
  • having regular overseas travel trips but only carbon-neutral ones 
  • enjoying a rewarding job in a meaningful career while contributing to incredible work culture

To put it simply, it is now no longer enough just to live our life.

We have to compete with everyone else’s life as well! 

Perpetually trying to match the best practice standard in every category of life is the curse of social media and our times.

We are trying to achieve a fantasy existence, and it’s potentially very destructive to our wellbeing. Check this article for more information Business owner wellbeing-how to actively prepare yourself

Burnout and owning a business

If you are thinking about starting a business, buying a business or franchise, then it’s essential to know what to expect.

If you are feeling burnout as an employee will owning a business help or make it worse?

Burnout is a potential risk, so we help prospective business owners decide if owning a business is the right choice for them.

We give you suggestions on how to prepare yourself, evaluate a business idea and manage a business while keeping well.

New business owners often quote reasons such as “greater flexibility” or “being my own boss” as motivations for owning a business.

We believe there is no point in owning a business if it harms your wellbeing and makes you unhappy. 

Equally, owning a business could turn out to be one of the most rewarding things that you do in life. Many business owners would never return to being an employee.

Take our Business Readiness Test for some more insight into what it takes to be a successful business owner.

Get a balanced view as we are unbiased.

Here is some other information to explore if you are considering owning a business.

Thinking of owning a business would you be successful

Money-mindset for success

Your motivation for owning a business


Remember to Listen Before You Leap!

Brendan Barrow, Co-Host

The Should I Own A Business Podcast