Generation Z will bring new skills, outlooks and ideas into Australian workplaces. However, their arrival will also necessitate a revolution in how executives deal with the mental health issues of their team members.
Executives deserve a lot of credit for the work they have already done in transforming the approach to mental health in corporate Australia. Thankfully, we are now more willing to recognise these problems when they arise and support our colleagues during times of crisis.
Slowly but surely, we are progressing.
This advancement is absolutely pivotal with a view to generational changes in Australian workplaces. More and more, you will begin to see fresh-faced Generation Zers pour into your offices to begin their careers.
Generation Z workers are the children of Generation X. They were born in 1995 or later and have grown up in a society pervaded by technology, social media, the GFC and the War on Terror.
Like generations past, this new cohort will undoubtedly transform our organisations in ways we can predict and ways we cannot. There is, however, one prominent change that must be at the forefront of executives’ minds to ensure a smooth arrival.
Never before have we seen a generation so depressed and so anxious as this one. According to a survey run by the American Psychological Association, 54% of Generation Z workers report feeling anxious or stressed at least once per month. In contrast, only 35% of Generation X and 27% of Baby Boomers report similar feelings.
Many psychologists credit this condition to the effect of technology and social media. Many young people feel the need to be connected all day and all night via platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and email. They believe they are letting their friends and colleagues down if they shut off. The effect of this is detrimental to sleep patterns and physical health and has long-term mental health impacts. In fact, with Generation Z, we are seeing employees burn-out and require time off at an age younger than we have ever seen before.
Moreover, Generation Z has grown up comparing itself to its peers on social media. This has created a perverse mindset where they constantly measure themselves against a benchmark set by others. When they see a friend or colleague get a promotion, they will feel anxious and as if their careers are stalling. The impact this can have on mental health is disastrous.
So, what can executive leaders do?
Generation Z is not blind to these issues. They are at the forefront of the transformation in attitudes regarding mental health and are more willing to talk about their problems than anyone else.
As such, executives need to establish measures and services in their organisations to make sure Generation Z has the support network it expects to navigate their internal storms. For example, American colleges have recorded huge spikes in the number of first-year students requiring counselling; in fact, according to the Higher Education Research Institute, the proportion of first year students seeing an on-site counsellor doubled between 1985 and 2015. Executives would be wise to create a similar environment within their organisations where confidential counselling is always accessible.
Training senior employees to carry out group meditation sessions is another way of creating this supportive environment. Meditation can foster a climate of trust within your team which goes a long way in helping those struggling with mental health problems.
More simply, executives must empathise with their younger team members. You might think someone is being soft or weak and find it hard to connect with them when they are experiencing issues so foreign to you. But stress and anxiety can be absolutely crippling; in order to get the most out of Generation Z, you must be open to them. Demonstrating that you have a grasp on how they are feeling and offering your support can go a long way in making a younger worker feel more comfortable in a new environment.
Generation Z is smart. It is innovative. It is optimistic and hard-working. All of these benefits remain out of reach if executives do not establish an environment that allows young women and men to prosper.
This prosperity is contingent on, above all else, mental health.
Unless executives take the lead and prepare their organisations for what is coming, a wealth of opportunities will fade into nothing.
Backed up by ground-breaking big data analysis, the Complete Leader Program places special emphasis on dealing with mental health issues in the workplace. If you are interested in fostering this capacity to deal with emerging issues, please contact Melinda Fell.