Generation Z: Stressed and Speaking Out

Generation Z is the newest generation to be hitting the workforce. Defined (loosely) as being currently between the ages of 10 and 24 (so born between 1999 and 2013ish), this generation has seen a lot in its relatively short stint: recessions, pandemic, wars, mass shootings, and all of it broadcast in the moment on social media, which they grew up on. All of this has translated to the newest batch of employees reporting in at being the most stressed of all the generations.

I’ll give some employers a moment to huff a sigh about a lack of resiliency and how fragile these employees are. Finished? Ok, one more grumble about Kids Today, and then let’s move on. Because like it or not, this generation, by 2030, will make up over 8% of the workforce and that percentage will keep climbing as Generation X retires and boomers continue to retire. (Well, if they retire, but that’s for another day). If employers want to attract talent, they need to take these complaints seriously.

But is this generation, the one that was raised on the 24-hour news cycle, shootings, pandemics, recessions, and job shortages, really fragile and lack resilience? Or is it that this is also the first generation that is leveraging new communication media to speak out about it?

We Don’t Talk About It

It wasn’t all that long ago that mental health was a taboo subject for adults, particularly among men. It wasn’t until the 1990s for example that doctors really began treating anxiety with medication. Autism and ADHD were not as well understood, and women were far more rarely diagnosed with these things than men because they present symptoms differently. Prior to the 1990s, it was simply understood that the world was stressful, a grind, and a slog and that was just the way things were.

When my husband was first (and finally) diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) with a co-morbidity of depression, he realized that he had likely lived with this his entire life (not helped by sleep problems) and began to speak out about it in the workplace and school. After all, a stressed out work populace doesn’t help anyone, even though many generations of workers before him had simple accepted stress and anxiety as something to be swept under the rug and ignored.

Opening the Gates

As more people began to group together and discuss what was happening to them, the floodgates opened and the internet certainly helped. There were entire groups of people comparing symptoms and feeling as though they weren’t alone in their anxiety and depression and then they began to demand changes. (And they still are, with more or less success, depending on who you talk to).

Still though, employers could by and large ignore the whole thing. There was a clear division between work and personal life and the unspoken rule: You leave your baggage at the door and you don’t talk about it. Work stress was normal, the grind was a badge of pride, and if you complained, you were easily replaced.

But people could still talk.

The Pandemic and the Rise of Employee Power

Then Covid-19 hit.

We were all there, so no need to rehash. What’s more interesting is the aftereffects. The major one that has most people fretting is inflation of course, but the other one is the rise in more power to job seekers and even more outspoken about the importance of mental health and understanding stress. This power back to the employees started out as being more on the job seeking side, with employees in a better position to demand things like higher wages, more remote or hybrid work sites, and other perks, but has also been now laced with more discussion about how stressed employees are, particularly Gen Z and to a lesser extent but still outspoken, Millennials.

Now we add this increased power of job seekers and employees to instant communication mediums like TikTok and Facebook memes, and here we are. More job seekers and employees are talking about their mental health and stress level, more of them are willing to say they are overwhelmed, and more of them are in a position to demand that businesses do something about it.

What is the Employer’s Role?

 So what should employers be doing (if anything), about this?

It used to be that most employers could ignore the whole thing, especially in the early ‘00s. After all, there were far more would be job seekers than jobs and employers held more of the power. Furthermore, people still weren’t exactly talking about their mental health (particularly older adults), so the employers could mostly shrug and point out that mental health is a personal thing to deal with, not professional.

Remember though, right now more employees have the power. It’s levelling back out again, but many employers are coming around to the idea that their team’s mental health and stress levels have a direct impact on productivity, and simply telling Gen Z to leave it at the door isn’t going to work. And addressing stress in the workplace with the goal of decreasing it, has a real impact on the bottom line of the business, so employers have an investment of their own here.

There are a few things that employers can do to make sure their Gen Z (And all other employees) have the best chance possible, before they jump ship:

  • Start angling your approach to be that of a coach and a mentor, rather than a technical expert.
  • More communication and clarity on how the work creates an impact in the world
  • Start investing more in mental health training for supervisors and leaders
  • Honestly, more pay so that Gen Z doesn’t feel obliged to take on side hustles just to pay the bills
  • Understand and cultivate the passions of your team. Cross-training and mentorship really help
  • Encourage them to have a creative outlet in and out of the workplace

Obviously the employees have to pull their weight in this as well and should be doing things like eating and sleeping better, engaging in mindfulness, opening their own lines of communication, and perhaps weaning off social media and the 24/7 news cycle! But work takes up a huge part of a person’s life so it behooves everyone to try to ensure it doesn’t cause a huge amount of a person’s stress.

So, is Gen Z the most stressed out generation in the workplace today? They certainly have every reason to be stressed, but then so does everyone else. It’s more likely that Gen Z is the most outspoken about their stress and that’s no bad thing. We know that stress leads to problems with being productive, health problems, shortened lifespan, and more issues, so talking about it and trying to lessen it is good for everyone: employees and employers alike.

What do you think? Is Gen Z the most stressed generation in the workforce? What should be done about it? Sound off on our Facebook page!

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