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'I Was Terrified To Take A Holiday': The Harmful Reality Of Millennial Burnout

Olivia didn’t take a holiday from her job for over two years for fear of being perceived as lazy, and that she might slip behind her colleagues. And she joins a growing number doing the same.

While the 26-year-old, who works as a creative in the advertising industry, has taken a few days here and there “because family was sick”, she hasn't given herself the luxury of a “resting holiday”.

Simply the thought of asking her boss for some time off for a vacation left Olivia* feeling stressed out, apprehensive and guilt-stricken.

“You don't want to feel like you're missing out on work because the industry is so dog-eat-dog,” Olivia told 10 daily. 

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“Time flies as well and you're like, 'Oh, no I haven't taken leave,’” she said, explaining how the fast pace of her work meant that she hadn’t dipped into her entitled annual days off.  

The toxic culture of Olivia's former workplace was one of working late, on weekends, and from home on 'sick days'. 

People don't really leave work earlier because they think that's a bad thing to do. So even when you don't have much work to do, there's this pressure, for some reason, to just stay there and do productive stuff.

“And maybe if you're known to always take leave, will that push you down in the ladder and, you have to start again?” she said of the possibility of losing out on highly sought after briefs at the advertising agency. 

The stress of continually working without taking a breather left Olivia feeling lethargic, anxious, unmotivated and questioning the quality of the work she was producing.

Olivia isn't alone

A recent study conducted by Skyscanner and WorkScore surveyed 1,000 Australians. It found that 30 percent of workers experience burnout and 32 percent said their stress levels increase when they haven't taken time off.

A further 12 percent felt as though their workplace discouraged them from taking annual leave. Image: Getty

Some survey respondents who did take leave said they felt anxious or guilty for doing so (45 per cent) and half of those surveyed admitted to checking their work emails regularly while on holiday.

What does burnout look like?

According to Dr Libby Sander, an Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Bond University, the symptoms of work burnout can range from headaches, fatigue, a lack of motivation and an increased sense of cynicism about work tasks.

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Dr Sander told 10 daily that it was "critically important" that people are taking a restful holiday each year to help avoid those physical and mental symptoms.

"There was a recent study that showed that regularly working more than ten hours a day, for more than 50 days a year can lead to significantly increased risk of stroke," she explained, citing results from this French study.

So making sure that we're switching off from work, having holidays and separating from our work is actually very important for our physical health and mental health, and just a general satisfaction in life.

She added that, for employees covered by an award, it's both a right and requirement to take leave -- with freelancers and contractors in the country not even having the option to take a paid holiday.

"I think the more that we have a contingent workforce with the gig economy, or people on contract work, the more that they can feel that they don't have great security of employment, and especially for millennials who might be earlier in their career, they're really trying to prove themselves," she told 10 daily.

How do you avoid burnout?

While taking annual leave is an opportunity to recharge, it's also important to be practising healthy workplace habits year-round to avoid feeling exhausted.

"Even though we don't feel like doing it, it's really important to come back to those things that we all know that we should do," Dr Sander said.

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"Eating healthily, eating regularly, if we're having difficulty sleeping to get support for that, getting outside in nature, just going for a short walk even at lunchtime has a significant effect on lowering stress, helping us to recover and feel more restored."

What should your employer be doing?

Dr Sanders told 10 daily that, to encourage a healthy workplace, employers should have policies in place that don't let workers' annual leave accumulate over long periods of time. 

She also advised that work hours should be well monitored in case an employee is "working on competing jobs from different managers in the organisation".

"Having really good communication with employees about how people are managing at work, and if they are, in fact, stressed, or if they're having a difficult time and making the culture, okay, for people to talk about that is really important."

* Name has been changed to protect the individual's privacy at work