The Truth About How Generation Z Handles Stress in the Workplace

My generation is often criticized for higher levels of stress and anxiety in the workplace. Here’s why we're more susceptible — and how employers can help.

My generation, Generation Z, is known as the “most anxious generation.

It’s a tough label, but it’s not uncalled for; 54 percent of us report anxiety and nervousness, compared to 40 percent of millennials, and 35 percent of Gen Xers. My age group is also characterized by more mental health struggles than ever, and as a result, is often criticized for workplace behaviors that are considered abnormal by older generations.

This isn’t totally uncalled for either, considering that some of these behaviors include being extra sensitive, uncooperative, and even ghosting employers.

But it’s not entirely our fault. Experts point to Generation Z’s childhoods as the starting point for increased mental health issues, and inability to cope with some stressors that Gen Xers or baby boomers take in stride.

Growing up in a protective and mainly indoors environment surrounded by technology and social media (which has been linked to anxiety and depression) is likely a factor in the way that Gen Zers behave in the workplace, according to Jonathan Haidt, Ph.D., social psychologist, author, and professor of ethical leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

“The country is facing rising rates of anxiety, depression, and fragility among today’s teens and college students, many of whom have been surrounded by protective adults their entire lives. What will happen when they enter ‘the real world,’ where protections will be far fewer and demands will be much greater?” Haidt tells Forbes.

What results is a divide between Gen Zers like me entering the workforce and our employers, who are often unprepared to deal with how the “most anxious generation” works. But there are strategies that both parties can use to meet in the middle and create a workplace that works for everyone.

What Generation Z can do

Haidt says that in order to prepare for the workplace, those of us in Generation Z should lean into the concept of “antifragility” — the idea that people benefit from a healthy degree of adversity — by opening themselves up to challenges, criticism, and failure. According to Forbes, embracing antifragility “will help them learn to be rational rather than emotional, especially when it comes to issues that have nothing to do with [their] feelings.”

Generation Z should also communicate directly and candidly with employers about feelings of discomfort or anxiety in the workplace. When employers better understand the struggles that we face, they are better able to enact practices or behaviors that create a healthier, more productive environment.

What employers can do

One way employers can create a more positive workplace environment for Generation Z is to encourage open discussion about mental health. Opening up a channel of communication not only helps employers understand what us Gen Zers face in the workplace, it also creates an environment of “psychological safety” in which we feel comfortable having a voice, without fear of being embarrassed or rejected. Employers can accomplish this by owning up to their own mistakes, not blaming individuals for systematic failures, and giving feedback often.

Employers may also consider mindfulness training for themselves and their employees, which can equip all the parties involved with tools to reframe stressors positively, and lower anxiety in the workplace.

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