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Millennial Burnout: Building Resilience Is No Answer – We Need To Overhaul How We Work

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In a popular BuzzFeed article, Anne Helen Petersen describes how millennials (people born between 1981 and 1996) became “the burnout generation”. She describes some of the stark consequences of edging towards burnout and identifies what she calls “errand paralysis”, marked by a struggle to do even simple or mundane tasks.

Many of the factors contributing to this burnout are rooted in the challenging job and economic conditions that millennials face, according to Petersen. She also describes “intensive parenting” as a contributing factor, because millennials have been relentlessly trained and prepared for the workplace by their parents. They have internalised the idea that they need to be working all the time or engaging in the never-ending pursuit of self-optimisation.

READ MORE | Burnout, stress lead more companies to try a four-day work week

Similarity to work burnout

Millennial burnout has a lot of similarities with regular burnout, otherwise known as work burnout. Burnout is a response to prolonged stress and typically involves emotional exhaustion, cynicism or detachment, and feeling ineffective. The six main risk factors for work burnout are having an overwhelming workload, limited control, unrewarding work, unfair work, work that conflicts with values and a lack of community in the workplace.

People who have to navigate complex, contradictory and sometimes hostile environments are vulnerable to burnout. If millennials are found to be suffering higher levels of burnout, this might indicate that they face more problematic environments. It is quite possibly the same stuff that stresses everyone, but it is occurring in new, unexpected or greater ways for millennials, and we haven’t been paying attention.

For example, we know that traditional social comparison plays a role in work burnout. For millennials, social competition and comparison are continually reinforced online, and engaging with this has already been shown to be associated with depressive symptoms in young people.

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Even if you avoid social media, using technology and going online can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Excessive internet use has been linked to burnout at school. These are just some of the ways that millennials have been increasingly exposed to the same stressors that we know can negatively affect people in the workplace.

We know very little about how millennials experience burnout. Early research suggests there are generational differences. Specifically, millennials respond to emotional exhaustion (often the first stage of burnout) differently to baby boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964). When feeling emotionally exhausted, millennials are more likely to feel dissatisfied and want to leave their job than baby boomers.

Burnout research shows that complex environments and stressors, coupled with high expectations, create the conditions for traditional work burnout. The same can be said for the millennial burnout, which draws on similar notions of perfectionism.

Perfectionists, especially the self-critical ones, are at greater risk of burnout. Naturally, the self-critical type of perfectionist works hard to avoid failure, thereby putting themselves at high risk of burnout.

Resilience as protection

A recent approach to tackling work burnout is to train people to be more resilient. This is underpinned by the assumption that highly competent people can improve their working practices to avoid burnout. However, as I recently argued in an editorial in the BMJ, highly competent, psychologically healthy and seemingly resilient people are likely to face an increased risk of burnout.

It seems counterintuitive, but one of the earliest studies on workplace burnout showed that workers who were happier, less anxious and more able to relieve stress were more likely to develop burnout than those in a comparison group without these traits.

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This largely forgotten study involved air traffic controllers in the US in the 1970s; it followed over 400 of them for three years. Most of the cohort (99%) had served in the US Armed Forces, so we can expect that they had experience of extreme stress and most likely had developed resilience.

This study shows us some of the conditions for creating burnout in this seemingly high functioning and resilient group. Their work was continually becoming more complex, with new technologies being introduced, without the necessary training to use them. They worked long shifts without breaks and had poor environments to work in. Their hours and rotas were challenging and could be unpredictable. These characteristics probably look quite familiar to millennials and anyone working in the gig economy.

Opposite effect

The recent focus on training workers to avoid burnout by encouraging them to be more resilient is likely to become another stress, pressure or high ideal. It is likely that this serves to increase the risk for burnout, especially for the types of perfectionists who are highly self-critical.

The importance of our ideals, our view of what we are and should be, also shows us why labelling millennials as “snowflakes” is probably harmful. Similarly, any intensive parenting that attempts to create resilient children may be counterproductive. This is because the core messages of intensive parenting are actually about social control and conformity, and these probably feed into children’s internal and external ideals for the future.

What we can learn from burnout trends is that work is becoming rapidly and overwhelmingly more difficult and complex. This is driving higher burnout levels in many professions and in informal workers, such as caregivers, and also, potentially, in millennials. The solution is to simplify complex, contradictory and hostile work and personal environments, rather than giving us all another job of training ourselves to be more resilient to these environments.

-Rajvinder Samra; Lecturer in Health, The Open University

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Economy

5 Tips For SMEs To Counter The Covid-19 Crisis

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It was recently reported by ratings agency S&P Global that the coronavirus outbreak has plunged the world into a recession. On the home front, a sudden surge in COVID-19 cases in the country resulted in the President of South Africa imposing a 21-day country-wide lockdown, starting from Thursday, 26 March 2020. Combine this with the fact that the country also recently announced to be in its third recession since 1994 it’s safe to say that many businesses are beginning to feel the effects of the pandemic.

The impact of the coronavirus on small businesses is likely to be substantial, especially for local businesses who are already feeling the pinch, as financial and market uncertainty can easily translate into an emotional crisis that can overwhelm our systems. However, help is on the way as the Department of Small Business Development announced that a Debt Relief Fund has been set up to assist small, medium and micro enterprises impacted by COVID-19.

While this relief is welcomed, it is still vital for leaders to step up. The world has been through crises before, but during these significantly difficult times, the economic impact may be as severe or possibly worse. As such, those in leadership positions must use past crises as examples and apply what was learnt to keep the country on course and minimise the impact of the pandemic.

Karl Westvig, CEO at Retail Capital, has pinpointed the visible areas that are affected and outlined a few pointers to help small business owners weather the storm.

Liquidity

The first victim of panic is liquidity – banks, asset managers and funders stop lending. When they cannot calculate the potential risk, they will not lend.  Therefore, it is critical to shore up cash by drawing down on available facilities and suspending any unnecessary investments. Reduce expenses and manage cash flow daily.

Get Your Best Team on It

When a business is growing, we tend to shift our best people into roles linked to growth and new initiatives. In a crisis, these people need to move into the highest priority roles. These roles would include collecting from customers, raising facilities or engaging key clients.

Morale and Communication

People need leadership. This would include authentic and regular communication about the situation, what the business requires and how this will be achieved. You can’t control the circumstances, but you can control the response and actions. This will create more certainty.

Hands-on

Events evolve quickly and every day is critical. Leaders must be hands-on. They have to be in touch with customers, suppliers, funders and staff. They have to collect data on everything – the mood, the financial metrics, even customer stories. Some of the best information is anecdotal, not just big data.

Policies

It’s tough to lead when you don’t understand all the underlying levers. These can change in a crisis. What worked in a stable environment can go out of the window in an instant. The best approach is to start again, listen to customers and then adapt your policies within your framework.

“This is not a manual on how to handle the current crisis, but hopefully, the points mentioned above can add to what you are already doing. In simple terms, it is easy to be overwhelmed, so tackle a few things very quickly and with commitment. This will create certainty and lead to action. The alternative is paralysis,” concludes Westvig.

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Billionaires

Motsepe Family & Associates Join Rupert And Oppenheimer Families In Donating R1 billion To Deal With COVID-19 Pandemic

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On Monday South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa revealed that South Africa’s richest families the Rupert and Oppenheimer families had each contributed R1 billion to assist small businesses and their employees affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Today the Motsepe family has contributed R1 billion ($57mn). See full statement below.

The Motsepe Family in partnership with companies and organisations that they are associated with, have pledged R1 billion to assist with the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and its related challenges that are confronting South Africa and the African Continent.

These companies and organisations are:
 Motsepe Foundation
 Sanlam
 African Rainbow Capital (ARC)
 African Rainbow Minerals (ARM)  and others

The Founder and Chairman of the Motsepe Foundation, Dr Patrice Motsepe said: “Several hundred million rands will immediately be made available with the primary objective of saving lives and slowing and restraining the spread of the Coronavirus. We are purchasing sanitisers, disinfectants, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and are in discussions with Government, health workers and other stakeholders to assist with acquiring other equipment and making resources available which are essential for dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic. We’ve been advised that access to water for regularly washing hands is crucial for slowing and limiting the spread of the Coronavirus. We are therefore providing water to poor rural and urban communities by purchasing water tanks (jojos), drilling and equipping for borehole water and also building sanitary facilities. The current lockdown has an impact on the goods, equipment and services that can be purchased immediately and the goods and services which can be provided when the lockdown has been terminated. Our short to medium term interventions include building additional classrooms, computer centers and laboratories in all the 9 provinces of South Africa to assist with the excessively high number of students per classroom in some schools; particularly in the context of the current Coronavirus pandemic and the social distancing requirements.

Those schools in the poor rural and urban areas which do not have internet access or facilities will be assisted with study guides, scientific calculators, dictionaries and other educational equipment and facilities identified in consultation with the Department of Basic Education, school principals and teachers. Poor and underdeveloped communities are ill-prepared to deal with the serious challenges and consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic and are in dire need of our assistance and contributions. We are committed to contribute to the provision of quality education, infrastructure and other facilities to better prepare and equip them to deal with future pandemics or catastrophes.”

We will be working in partnership with:
 traditional leaders, kings, queens and their communities that we have been working with for the past 20 years;
 the 34 Religious and Faith-Based organisations that participate in the annual Motsepe Foundation National Day of Prayer;
 National, Provincial and Local Government authorities;
 Trade Union and other Worker Representative organisations;
 NGOs and other local community representative organisations;
 sport organisations and entities;
 local, provincial and national business and professional organisations;
 black and white farmers and their representative organisations; and
 other organisations or structures that can assist or partner with us in dealing with the current Coronavirus pandemic.

The CEO of Sanlam Ian Kirk said: “Sanlam has a rich history of always putting our people, our clients and our country first; hence our mantra of ‘Doing well, by doing Good’. Today, we’re proud of the partnership with the Motsepe Family and its associated companies. We believe these efforts will make a meaningful contribution not only towards fighting the Coronavirus, but also in developing the long-term sustainability of South Africans, particularly in poor and rural areas. Periods of profound uncertainty like these call for us to come together to support all the prudent actions that contain the scourge of this virus and its impact on our already fragile economy.”

The CEO of ARC Dr Johan van Zyl said: “As a nation we are in unchartered waters in terms of the scale and danger that the COVID19 pandemic presents to South Africans. It is now time for each and everyone of us to demonstrate leadership and help. ARC is a fairly young company with limited financial resources. Yet, it remains important that we make a contribution. In this regard we are partnering with companies and organisations with which we have common interests and share common values to ensure that the positive impact we aim to make is felt.” We have been in contact with various Ministers and MECs and will also be in contact with the Government’s Coronavirus Solidarity Fund to identify specific initiatives and projects where we can partner and work together. There may be upliftment and developmental undertakings where they are better positioned than we are, in which case we may fund or donate with them on a particular project or partnership.

We want to thank Government for their leadership and cooperation including health workers, police, soldiers, as well as Religious and Faith-Based organisations, traditional leaders, trade union and other worker representative organisations, NGOs and other rural and urban organisations. We also want to thank business and in particular the Rupert and Oppenheimer families, the employees, boards and stakeholders of the companies that the Motsepe Family is associated with, for their assistance and contributions in dealing with the current Coronavirus pandemic.

South Africans have a history of uniting and working together when confronted with major and enormous challenges. We are confident that South Africa will in the medium to long term overcome the life-threatening and economic challenges caused by the Coronavirus pandemic and continue to build a bright and inclusive future for the people of South Africa and the African continent.

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Current Affairs

What You Need To Know About AfDB’s $3 billion “Fight COVID-19” Social Bond

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Landmark transaction, largest Social bond transaction to date in capital markets

Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, 27 March 2020 – The African Development Bank (AAA) has raised an exceptional $3 billion in a three-year bond to help alleviate the economic and social impact the Covid-19 pandemic will have on livelihoods and Africa’s economies.  

The Fight Covid-19 Social bond, with a three-year maturity, garnered interest from central banks and official institutions, bank treasuries, and asset managers including Socially Responsible Investors, with bids exceeding $4.6 billion. This is the largest Social Bond ever launched in international capital markets to date, and the largest US Dollar benchmark ever issued by the Bank. It will pay an interest rate of 0.75%.

The African Development Bank Group is moving to provide flexible responses aimed at lessening the severe economic and social impact of this pandemic on its regional member countries and Africa’s private sector.

“These are critical times for Africa as it addresses the challenges resulting from the Coronavirus. The African Development Bank is taking bold measures to support African countries. This $3 billion Covid-19 bond issuance is the first part of our comprehensive response that will soon be announced. This is indeed the largest social bond transaction to date in capital markets. We are here for Africa, and we will provide significant rapid support for countries,” said Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank Group.

The order book for this record-breaking bond highlights the scale of investor support, which the African Development Bank enjoys, said the arrangers.

“As the Covid-19 outbreak is dangerously threatening Africa, the African Development Bank lives up to its huge responsibilities and deploys funds to assist and prepare the African population, through the financing of access to health and to all other essential goods, services and infrastructure,” said Tanguy Claquin, Head of Sustainable Banking, Crédit Agricole CIB.

Coronavirus cases were slow to arrive in Africa, but the virus is spreading quickly and has infected nearly 3,000 people across 45 countries, placing strain on already fragile health systems. 

It is estimated that the continent will require many billions of dollars to cushion the impact of the disease as many countries scrambled contingency measures, including commercial lockdowns in desperate efforts to contain it. Globally, factories have been closed and workers sent home, disrupting supply chains, trade, travel, and driving many economies toward recession. 

Commenting on the landmark transaction, George Sager, Executive Director, SSA Syndicate, Goldman Sachs said: “In a time of unprecedented market volatility, the African Development Bank has been able to brave the capital markets in order to secure invaluable funding to help the efforts of the African

continent’s fight against Covid-19. Not only that, but in the process, delivering their largest ever USD benchmark. A truly remarkable outcome both in terms of its purpose but also in terms of a USD financing”.

The Bank established its Social Bond framework in 2017 and raised the equivalent of  $2 billion through issuances denominated in Euro and Norwegian krone. In 2018 the Bank was designated by financial markets, ‘Second most impressive social or sustainability bond issuer” at the Global Capital SRI Awards.

“We are thankful for the exceptional level of interest the Fight Covid-19 Social Bond has raised across the world, as the African Development Bank moves towards lessening the social and economic impact of the pandemic on a continent already severely constrained. Our Social bond program enables us to highlight our strong development mandate to the investor community, allowing them to play a part in improving the lives of the people of Africa. This was an exceptional outcome for an exceptional cause,” said Hassatou Diop N’Sele, Treasurer, African Development Bank.

Fight Covid-19 was allocated to central banks and official institutions (53%), bank treasuries (27%) and asset managers (20%). Final bond distribution statistics were as follows: Europe (37%), Americas (36%), Asia (17%) Africa (8%,) and Middle-East (1%).

Press Release by the African Development Bank

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