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Gen Z’s Impact on Workplace Mental Health Initiatives

Published on Oct. 6, 2022, at 2:36 p.m.
By Grace Brindley.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center collapsed. A month later President George W. Bush declared war on terror and NATO invaded Afghanistan.

The oldest members of Generation Z, or those born between 1995 and 2010, were 6 years old at the time. As they entered elementary school, mass school shootings began suddenly across the country. Then came a global pandemic.

Photo by Charles Deluvio via Unsplash

COVID-19 precipitated not only intense fear and anxiety for this generation but also an economic crisis when they joined the workforce, as well.

In response, Generation Z demanded one thing from employers: mental health support in the workspace.

According to Forbes Magazine, 82% of Gen Z workers desire mental health days, with respondents in a survey describing burnout and lack of work-life balance as the second biggest reason after salary to quit their jobs.

Alexis Gorham, a member of Gen Z early in her career, recently quit her job as an account manager at Insight Global, citing burnout as her motivation.

“I think that this pandemic should’ve shown people that mental health is important,” Gorham said.

As a Gen Zer living during the COVID-19 pandemic, she witnessed suicide, homelessnessand unemployment rates all go up. Gorham asserted that companies should implement mental health benefits to make young people want to work with them again; however, she acknowledged some practices are already employed at her past company, such as free mental health counseling twice a month.

With the emergence of quiet quitting, another Forbes article found “86% of employers are making it a top priority to address stress, burnout, anxiety and depression.”

According to Douglas Dutton, who is a senior manager in the pharmaceutical development industry, “the industry resignation rate appears higher in Generation Z.” In response to employee turnover, “companies in this industry must provide significant benefits to keep workers committed to their organizations,” Dutton said.

Dutton described a corporate benefit for mental health as EAP, an acronym for employee assistant programs. “EAP is one of the many benefits provided by companies in our industry to help employees balance work responsibilities with personal obligations,” Dutton said.

Bailey Hansen, a social media associate at Campaign Solutions, also noted mental health benefits in her workplace, describing them as shifts. Coming from a family that owns multiple businesses, Hansen felt that there was not as much emphasis on mental health in the workplace in past years, even as recent as the early 2010s. As an employee, her experience included a much greater focus on mental health. In addition to mental health days, Hansen described mindfulness rooms in both the Washington, D.C., and Newport Beach offices of Campaign Solutions.

These measures indicate a competitive edge for attracting Gen Z employees. Handshake found postings for jobs that address mental health “see more than twice as many applicants” as those that do not.

While many companies advertise mental health incentives such as mental health days and counseling services to Generation Z, some critics refer to these policies as band-aid solutions. According to an article by the Harvard Business Review, “employees need and expect sustainable and mentally healthy workplaces, which requires taking on the real work of culture change.” The article highlighted generational and demographic divides, “with younger workers and historically underrepresented groups still struggling the most [with mental health].”

Photo by Anthony Tran via Unsplash

Corporations might seek to meet mental health needs; however, members of older generations facilitating these efforts may have difficulty empathizing with Gen Z, consequently making it difficult to address their concerns.

Mental health therapist Jade Witt characterized Generation Z as considerably more attuned to their mental health than older generations. Additionally, Witt called Gen Z more verbal when it comes to discussing emotions, citing social media as the reason for this openness.

Witt also spoke about EAP programs, critiquing their efficacy. In her experience, the typical employee assistance program covers an average of eight sessions. According to Witt, this is not enough time to truly address a mental health concern. In addition, EAP pays considerably lower rates than insurance rates, making it impossible for private practitioners like Witt to sustain a business. As these programs do not work closely enough with health care practitioners to understand what works for them and what does not, employees using EAP do not always benefit, Witt said.

While companies have undeniably undergone shifts to satisfy Gen Z’s desire for mental health support in the workspace, generations remain divided about the breadth of corporate responsibility. One key question remains: Will companies expand their mental health initiatives to redefine workplace culture for this new generation of workers?

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