To say that 2020 has been filled with twists and turns would be a massive understatement, especially for college students across the country. When COVID-19 hit the United States, campuses closed, graduations were cancelled, and the economy took a widely publicized tumble. Students finished out their spring semester on Zoom calls and took up virtual internships—if they were lucky enough not to have their summer jobs canceled. Most said “see you when I see you” to friends from school, resigning to an unknown fate for back-to-school in the fall. All of this, combined with all the other frightening elements of a global pandemic, have made for a scary and confusing year.
So when my team at Handshake sent out a summertime survey to a representative sample of college students, we wanted to check in about mental health. Where do college students stand, how have their perspectives changed, and how will it impact their future career search? The results indicate that they care more about their mental health than ever—and they expect their employers to, also.
More than 65% of students surveyed told us that they’re prioritizing their mental health as a result of the pandemic, and would like to see support from employers in the realm of mental health. But while students certainly hope their future jobs will provide actionable ways to care for their mental health, it’s clear that they simply can’t wait for workplace benefits to care for their own mental health… almost half of students report increased anxiety right now due to the uncertainty of the current economic climate.
So, they’re being proactive. Among Handshake’s most visited student blog posts of 2020 is a list of free resources for college students, primarily focused on tools to care for mental and emotional health during COVID-19.
While everybody has their own mental health journey, there are several approachable ways for college students and young professionals to cope with stress, anxiety, and feelings of isolation during this time. One way to manage their current stress by practicing mindfulness meditation for a few minutes each day, which has a positive impact on both anxiety and depression. Working to improve sleep habits, practicing healthy movement each day, and turning to relaxing breathing exercises can also positively affect young people’s mental health during trying times.
Ultimately, while students can utilize these strategies, they also hope that their future employers will be equally proactive in providing for their mental health. 62.5% of our surveyed students feel that it’s “important” or “very important” for their future employer to provide mental health benefits to help employees cope with the aftermath of COVID-19. And, should their employment take place virtually, this focus on mental health is even more vital: more than half of all students surveyed think employers should invest more in employees’ mental health (through online therapy, meditation, etc.) if they are expected to work or intern remotely.
Showcasing support for mental health goes beyond benefits, too. Nearly half of students told us that companies’ HR policies should actively support non-discrimination around mental health issues. Plus, they need guidance from their employers! In our survey, 51% of students expressed concerns about the increasingly common shift to remote work impacting their mental health. The two biggest fears around starting their careers virtually are feelings of isolation (52.8% of students) and a lack of work-life balance (49.8%) — which companies can help avoid through clearly defined remote work policies and thoughtful team-building efforts.
Gen Z has already shown unbelievable fortitude, adaptability, and creativity when faced with all of 2020’s curveballs. I am sure even this unprecedented year will be no match for them! There’s never been a one-size-fits-all solution for mental health, but healthy habits and authentic support in the workplace can make a world of difference for today’s college job-seekers.