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Why young people are quitting the rat race

As conversations about burnout take centre stage, young people are drawing firmer boundaries between work and life

The hustle culture impacts your mental and physical health  (Unsplash)

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Riya (name changed), a communication designer, remembers the chaos like it was yesterday: the bundles of files on her desk, the inbox crammed with emails from her colleagues, the pending tasks that were often passed on to her, even though it wasn't really part of her job description. With no team to back her up, work was beginning to feel unending. “I noticed that they were just piling up a lot of work for me and not just work from my boss – work from my colleagues,” says Riya, who has been working in the food industry for a year, adding that these toxic workplace practices were beginning to take a toll on her mental and physical health“It was affecting my sleep… I used to have nightmares,” explains Riya. The constant pressure and workload also triggered her PCOS. “I gained a lot of weight,” she remembers.

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Conversations about health have been getting louder post-pandemic as more and more people take a critical look at how their current lifestyles have been impacting their mental health. The loudest voices amongst these are those of younger people, Gen Z and younger millennials, who often turn to social media to make themselves heard and find other voices that resonate with their own. As mental health and conversations around burnout take centre stage, more and more young people are leaving jobs that take a toll on their physical and mental well-being or simply drawing firm boundaries between work and life, simply refusing to participate in the rat race.

One of the most trending terms in recent times is quiet quitting, a practice where employees refuse to go above and beyond what is required of them at their workplaces. Many young people today are hopping onto the quiet quitting wagon with gusto, refusing to take on a project that is not a part of their job description, saying ‘no’ to working overtime without getting paid for it, not answering emails on holidays, and so on. In short, they are breaking the shackles of the “hustle culture” and doing only what is required, something sensible employees have been doing for decades.

Not surprisingly, the pandemic and the work-from-home practices, which blurred boundaries between professional and personal lives, played some part; people became more aware of toxic work ecosystems and their impact on mental well-being. The flexibility and the onus of being present at any given point of time, coupled with limited hand-holding opportunities courtesy of remote working, impacted “their [young adults’] ability to contribute productively over a period of time,” says Karuna Raghuvanshi, an organizational psychologist and a leadership coach based in Mumbai.

Raghuvanshi noticed a lot of young people who had entered the corporate world during the pandemic were eager to take on opportunities, learn fast and prove themselves. Contrary to the dominant narrative, Gen Z is not a lazy, disinterested generation. “I don’t see any passion missing; I don’t see any curiosity for learning that is missing in GenZ," believes Raghuvanshi. However, when workplaces end up turning toxic, disallowing boundaries between work and life and other issues pop up, young people are open to taking a step back and doing some introspection. "I would say that they have clear priorities about what they seek from life, including their work,” says Raghuvanshi.

So what can companies do to create better workspaces for their young employees? For starters, Diganta Chakrabarti, Professor and Associate Dean (School of Business), RV University, Bengaluru, says that the organizations will have a lot of work to do in terms of their recruitment and selection process since employees are increasing focusing on working for organizations whose work policies align with their personal and health requirements. "It will be quite a leap for organizations to accept this reality,” says Chakrabarti. He adds that the trickle-down effect of an unhappy, underperforming workforce is shrinkage in profits and overall functions of the organization.

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And yes, once organisations hire young people, they will need to see that they keep employees more engaged. Shruthi (name changed), a Senior Communications Manager at a marketing agency, explained how a major reason for her losing interest in her job was limited access to qualitative mentoring, professional guidance and the scope for learning more. “I feel like I’m just using what I studied in college. I don’t know what I don’t know at this point,” she says. Raghuvanshi agrees that organisations need to offer due recognition, flexibility at work, equitable opportunities and mentoring to help young people stay engaged. “They need to feel empowered,” she says.

The bottom line – the way we work needs to change, and it needs to change now. Stricter boundaries separating professional and personal lives need to be established, and organizations need to facilitate this process. Riya quit her job early this year. “It took a lot of time for me to put those papers in. I was thinking of it for around 5 months,” she recollects. Looking forward, Riya is clearer about what she wants. “In interviews, when they ask if you have something to ask, now I know what to ask the company,” she smiles.

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