- Gen-Z appears to be the most stressed cohort of workers; a recent BBC report revealed that a staggering 91% of 18-24-year-olds are stressed (compared to 84% of employees overall).
- By 2025, Gen-Z will comprise 27% of the workforce across OECD nations. Supporting this generation in the workplace must be a top priority for employers.
- There are no quick-fix solutions; however, employers must make a concerted effort to reduce the stress levels of younger employees and lessen the impact of workplace stress across the workforce.
Last year, Allwork.Space reported that Gen-Z (aged 26 and under) and Millennials (aged between 26 and 42) were experiencing the most workplace stress, exacerbated by financial pressures, poor work-life balance and a perceived lack of career progression.
In 2022, a Bain and Company survey revealed that 61% of employees under thirty-five were most concerned about their job security and finances (compared to 41% over thirty-five). Now, a more recent BBC report highlights the issue again, and focuses specifically on why Gen-Z, more than any other generation, is so prone to workplace stress.
How and why Gen-Z has become the most stressed generation at work
There have been widespread reports of Gen-Z being the most stressed generation across Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations — for instance, in the U.S., U.K., and Canada. There have been fewer reports focused on emerging-market nations, where Gen-Z will comprise one-third of the workforce by 2025 (compared to 27% in OECD countries).
According to the BBC report, researchers have found that the stress endured by this generation is due to a conflation of several unfortunate events. Many Gen-Zers entered the labor market during the global pandemic and at a time of tremendous economic uncertainty. The pandemic caused the most extensive upheaval of traditional business models we have ever witnessed, which was purported to have caused considerable anxiety for those who were new to the labor market. Many young employees were forced to work from home at a time when being office-based could have been crucial to their onboarding process.
The younger age of this cohort combined with a lack of experience in the workplace caused them to feel less able to cope with the upheaval. Paradoxically, the current demand from employers that remote workers (full-time and hybrid) return to the workplace is cited as a new source of stress for Gen-Z.
According to the BBC report, the tumultuous economic climate and the pandemic combined to create a sense of permacrisis — especially for younger employees possessing less (if any) savings and having the unfortunate status of being the lowest-paid (in general). A 2022 PwC Employee Financial Wellness Survey highlights how acute financial stress can negatively impact productivity, which causes multiple ripple effects — including poor mental health, absenteeism, lower retention rates and reduced employee engagement. The pandemic also saw a rise in layoffs, creating a real sense of job instability for Gen-Z.
How current workplace models are exacerbating Gen-Z’s stress levels
A recent Gallup poll indicates that, in addition to being the most stressed generation, Gen-Zers are also the most disengaged at work. This was supported by a LinkedIn survey which found that 72% of Gen-Zers wanted to quit their jobs in December 2022. The BBC reports how these statistics are linked to perceptions of a hostile work environment and the negative impact of the pandemic on this generation’s professional development. The requirement to work from home during the pandemic caused Gen-Z (more than any other cohort) to feel disconnected from the workplace. Subsequently, only 43% of Gen-Zers felt “very confident” in their job role, compared to 59% of millennials.
Unfortunately, the perception of a “hostile work environment” could have been fuelled by negative stereotyping and unfavorable language directed towards Gen-Z employees. A survey of 1,344 employers reveals that 75% of managers consider Gen-Z the most “entitled” cohort of all employees and that 49% of managers feel that Gen-Zers are the most challenging to work with “most or all of the time.” The report also highlights how some of the employers surveyed spoke about Gen-Zers as “lacking discipline” and “thinking they know everything.” These views, alongside the derogatory reference to Gen-Z as the “Snowflake” generation, are not only unhelpful; they damage an already strained relationship between some younger employees and managers (especially those from the Baby-boomer or Gen-X cohort).
What should employers be doing to resolve the situation?
Workplace stress can be influenced by factors beyond age or generation — such as job demands, workplace culture, and personal circumstances. Therefore, it is wise to tackle the challenge of workplace stress through a multifaceted approach that accounts for individual and organizational factors. Employers need to be forward-thinking, and older employers need to be more tuned in to the needs of their younger employees. A positive cultural shift within the workplace could facilitate the development of employee resilience, ensuring that younger employees feel valued and maintain a sense of optimism about the company’s future and their place within it.
It is a challenge for younger workers to meet their basic daily needs, let alone save towards buying their own properties in the future (59% of 18-24-year-olds in the U.S. do not believe they will ever own their own home). Those responsible for determining pay rates should therefore consider how increasing the wages of younger employees could assist them with the demands of higher rental costs and rising food prices.
There are no quick-fix solutions to the problem; however, there are a few ways in which employers could help to ameliorate stress for their younger employees:
- Increase opportunities for social interaction between this cohort and other generations within the workplace (as well as their peers). Long periods working from home and a lack of social interaction has created a sense of anxiety towards returning to the office and interacting with colleagues in person.
- Prioritize peer learning and mentorship. Employers could offer support programs to build resilience and enable younger workers to speak out with confidence. This would help to break down barriers between management and younger employees who may not feel valued. This solution is associated with a more emotionally intelligent management style.
- Offer greater flexibility at work — including the option for employees to work from home, or in a hybrid model. Flexibility includes having an office design that is inclusive and supports the mental and physical well-being of all employees.
The issue of stress and the younger generation should be pertinent to employers given that it is the dominant cause of burnout, absenteeism, lowered productivity, and even poor retention. Employers should note the high cost to their organizations of constant turnover — reported to cost employers upwards of 1.5 to 2 times an employee’s annual salary. If Gen-Z is not made to feel valued, and workplace stress is not managed, the repercussions for many companies will be widespread and prolonged. The future of work weighs heavily on how this cohort is supported.