There is no denying that for young workers and recent graduates falling in Generation Z, things can be a bit tough. A mix of a lack of financial security and job security that previous generations had, a ubiquitous use of technology in their everyday life, growing social media use, the very real prevalence of climate change, the impact of Covid-19, remote learning at university, more questioning around gender identity and sexual orientation, and even politics are all making a potent mix that is affecting young employees’ mental health.
What is the state of Gen Z mental health?
Sadly we’re seeing that young people are struggling the most with poor mental health. The National Insititute of Mental Health reports that young adults aged 18-25 years had the highest prevalence of any mental illness (34%) compared to adults aged 26-49 years (28%) and aged 50 and older (15%). These are numbers that are reflected in our own research report, All Worked Up. Our US data shows 46% of 16-24 year olds and 47% of 25-34 year olds score 3+ on the GAD-2 scale, showing they have anxiety that demands clinical intervention, compared to just 25% of 45-54 year olds. More than half (53%) of Gen Z respondents (16-24) rank for depression on the PHQ-2 screening, compared to 29% of those aged over 45.
This is a pattern mirrored in the UK and Australia. 44% of 16-24 year old UK employees have anxiety levels worthy of clinical intervention, compared to just 27% of workers over 55, and 46% are screening for depression, more than twice as many as over 55s, at 21%. Similarly 41% of Australians aged 16-24 are suffering clinical anxiety, compared to 26% 55+, and 46% depression, vs 23% of those over 55.
And they’re not getting help from mental health services. Not knowing that they need mental health support or being too embarrassed are the main reasons people give. Gen Zers also live busy lives, and sometimes find that they are unable to get an appointment at a suitable time.
How are the Gen Z workforce affected?
Mental health and work have an intertwined relationship. People with mental health challenges often find it harder to get jobs, and once in employment, may not always be included. Poor mental health can impact engagement, productivity and attendance, and work stresses and challenges can exacerbate mental health conditions, or even result in issues such as anxiety and depression. Deloitte Consulting found in their annual Gen Z and Millenial Survey that 60% say heavy workload, poor work/life balance, unhealthy team cultures, and inability to be their authentic self at work are causing stress and anxiety.
In Australia we found that 41% of 16-24 year olds are stressed and worried about work, compared to just 19% of 55-64 year olds. 41% of the older cohort in the USA and 29% in the UK don’t get stressed about work, whilst only 19% of US Gen Z respondents and 14% in the UK feel the same.
It seems that the younger Gen Z workers are feeling the strain the most. This most diverse generation faces a number of challenges that older generations have not experienced.
This is a generation that is well versed in mental illness and mental health, yet in All Worked Up we found that only 4 in 10 (42%) of Gen Z respondents scoring for clinically significant anxiety and/or depression have spoken to a professional about it.
5 ways employers can support Gen Z employees with mental health
1. Use digital tools
This new generation of workers are more tech savvy than baby boomers, and as digital natives are familiar with using apps and their phones to manage their lives. Our All Worked Up research shows that 8 in 10 16-24 year old employees would choose to speak to a clinically validated app with proven self help resources and personalised support over Human Resources, and two thirds would rather use an app than communicate about their mental health to managers. Wysa for Employers delivers tailored personalised care to employees with 24/7 real-time support at your fingertips whenever anyone needs it as AI intelligently listens to user needs and directs them to the right resources at the right time. It’s also anonymous so people feel they can be open and honest, free from judgement and stigma.
2. Ask them what they want
Gen Z is a diverse generation and will have different wants and needs. Ask your Gen Z workers through surveys, anonymous feedback forms and focus groups what good wellbeing looks like for them, and what support and resources they want to manage their mental health. Given that they are displaying higher levels of need than previous generations it is important the workplace adapts.
3. Measure efficacy
It’s really important that you know the impact and efficacy of your mental health solutions, so that you can effectively target resources. Measure the levels of anxiety and depression through clinically validated tools via the Wysa Employee Mental Health Barometer before starting a new intervention and at key points (we recommend 28 days and quarterly thereafter) to see how it is working. Wysa for Employers also offers access to anonymous, real-time insights into how the workforce is doing, the ability to see improvements in anxiety and depression scores using PHQ-9 and GAD-7 screening, usage and value shows the time employees spend on platform, total number of sessions, and most valuable resources), integrated tool utilization shows how employees are utilising other health resources such as EAPs and crisis lines and word cloud insights addresses employee concerns in real-time according to geography.
4. Offer flexible working
Gen Z values work life balance, and companies can help by offering hybrid working, flexible hours or even a four day work week. This doesn’t mean that Gen Z don’t work hard, but instead work best when they are high on energy and engaged. Don’t forget that a new generation into the workforce needs support to develop their careers, so ensure that remote workers are not forgotten and there are still plenty of opportunities for shadowing and mentoring.
5. Share your values
This most diverse generation is also a values driven generation, and cares about their impact on the world. Ensure that your environmental, social and governance goals are meaningful and aligned to the work that people are doing. Research shows that core values at work are a key part of a healthy workplace, making employees feel part of a community that is bigger than oneself, and contributes to the sense of self-actualization at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Work with younger people to identify your values and mission, and practice them every day.