Gen Z in the Workforce Part II

Part 2: A Mental Health Discovery

If you work with them, you may have noticed that the newest generation entering today’s workforce has some unique characteristics. In our last article about Gen Z in the Workforce, we discussed the business philosophies predominant among 22- to 26-year-olds, citing their application of cancel culture, preference for remote work and desire for work-life balance. On the surface it’s not always evident what factors shaped these philosophies but upon closer examination we hope to convey a better understanding of this group and help ease their transition into the workplace.

In this issue, our focus will center around Gen Z's mental health. According to McKinsey, Gen Zers are reporting higher rates of anxiety, depression and distress than any other age group. One reason was the pandemic, which affected everyone, but it disproportionately impacted Gen Z over older generations. That weighed heavily on their state of mind while exacerbating their overall concerns about finances, safety, securing a job and workplace preparation.

When it comes to their overall mental health, social isolation and loneliness stemming from the pandemic have played a role in their overall well-being. These issues, as reported by Deloitte, are associated with higher anxiety, depression and suicide rates. Physical distance led to the use of social media for meaningful and in-person socialization. As digital natives, they've turned to the internet for companionship and interaction. Working remotely only increased those feelings. Psychiatrists at Evernorth Heath Services say, "Gen Z are the loneliest, least resilient demographic alive today… No other generation feels less connected."

In a recent study of stress, Deloitte reported, "47% of Gen Z state financial insecurity contributes to their anxiety." Their biggest financial problems are student debt, inflation and the high cost of living. Affordable housing remains a challenge, since wages have mostly remained stagnant and homeownership has become unattainable in today’s market.

Gun violence is another contributor to their state of mind. Let us not forget that they are the children of Sandy Hook and mass shootings/school shootings are their reality. The American Psychological Association reports that 75% of Gen Zers said that mass shootings are "a significant source of stress," while according to a new survey from Blue Shield of California and Harris Poll, gun violence ranks as the top concern with 84% saying they experience negative mental health impacts. Some reports even indicate that Gen Z thinks about mass shootings at least once a week.

Another problematic issue affecting their mental health is their lack of confidence in securing a job when they graduate. Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor reports low unemployment, they face significant challenges. RippleMatch, a recruitment automation platform specializing in early career candidates, recently did a study where they reported on average 50% of Gen Zers say they are not confident they will find the proper role, and 57% plan to submit between 100-200 applications this year. In my experience working with our most recent grads, they reported that 95% of the time they never heard back from potential employers. To make matters worse, securing employment can take anywhere from 6-8 months. The discouragement from their job search experience contributes to their anxiety and depression, leading to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. 

Research has also shown that poor mental health makes Gen Zers feel less confident at work. Forbes reports that their pandemic-based college experiences, such as canceled internships and limited in-office work, impacted the rhythm of how soft skills are learned. The soft skills companies value include business etiquette, how to dress, how to introduce yourself, building workplace relationships, networking and behavior in an office environment — and not knowing how to fuel their insecurities and heighten imposter syndrome.

The Society for Human Resource Management found that "Gen Z reported lower personal confidence and self-esteem than all other generations." These young adults have reported feeling misunderstood by their managers and that the expectations employers have of them are unattainable.

With so many of these issues impacting the workplace, there are some steps that employers can take to help ease some of the anxiety so prevalent among this generation. One way is to adopt a compensation model that rewards employees for voluntarily participating in skill-based training. Doing so would help develop the soft skills necessary to succeed in their role. Not only would this serve as an incentive for employees financially, but it would also help employers address skill gaps. 

Additionally, managers could receive coaching on nurturing relationships with their direct reports and creating a safe space for learning. They could use their one-on-ones to teach about expectations and deliverables and how to meet them. They could also serve as mentors who actively participate in Gen Z professional development by exposing them to some of their day-to-day activities, like hosting meetings and interacting with leadership.

There is some good news. Gen Zers increasingly express their desire to work in the office, which would undoubtedly expedite their professional development and help boost their confidence. This group is also adamant about caring for themselves and prioritizing mental health; with many resources available to help, they will find their way like every generation before them. Finally, they're eager to learn and will set aside their business philosophies to advance their career. With time and patience, they will eventually catch up; it's up to us to help them.

In Part III of Gen Z in the Workforce, we will celebrate Gen Z and why this generation is so important and worthy of our time and investment. 

The Career Engineering series features the expert advice of Amy Rueda, a 25-year veteran of executive search, who has placed CEOs and C-suite executives across multiple industries and functional areas. Her passion for leading diversity initiatives that focus on change management and employee engagement is reflected in her portfolio of accomplishments. Amy studied political science and was born and raised in Los Angeles.

Email your career questions to and Amy will try and answer them in next month’s issue of Career Engineering.

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