Mentl Logo


Workplace Stress

If you throw something into a raging fire, it generally burns, and quickly, it’s true of most things, including our youngest generation of workers.

Generation Z, Gen Z, workers aged from 18 to 24, are the most stressed in the world, according to a new whitepaper looking at worldwide data captured by the Cigna Global 360 Wellbeing Survey.

The research paper by Cigna – called The Great Exhaustion – The Employer Opportunity – found that 91 percent of Gen Zers globally were stressed, far higher than the 84 percent level for all ages.

The report’s authors wrote: “Employee stress levels, which dropped slightly in 2021, are now on the increase, and it’s the younger generation who are feeling the greatest impact. 84 percent of all employees said they were stressed, but this rises to 91 percent for Gen Z, aged 18 to 24, and 87 percent for 25-34-year-old Millennials.

“We also see unmanageable stress now impacting a quarter (23 percent) of 18-24-year-olds, along with almost all, 98 percent, experiencing work burnout symptoms.”

In fact, as mentl reported when we participated in the launch of the UAE findings from the same dataset, here in the Emirates, it’s even starker, with 95 percent of Gen Zs reporting stress, and that same 98 percent reporting experiencing burnout symptoms.

I’m going to pause for a second for the Gen Xers and Boomers, especially those (men) in middle to higher management, to finish rolling their eyes. Better now? Fancy a quick exhale of ‘they are so entitled’?

“We were miserable, they should be miserable too,” is one of the less supportive comments I’ve heard from a fellow GenX leader when referring to the younger generation of workers, specifically Gen Zs.

I could start by suggesting that perhaps we shouldn’t have been miserable and that even back then the system needed improvement, but let’s just stop a look at the facts on the ground for a second.

A very different workplace for Gen Z

When I and my 50-something generation of workers entered employment, we did so in a very, very different landscape. My first office, which was a newspaper so had a reasonable amount of the latest communications tech, came equipped with a fax machine (Gen Zs might have to look that up) and pneumatic tubes, which used compressed air to push messages in bottles around the building (guessing even Millennials will need to look that up), and a word processor.

We were not unionised, but the rules were you took two hours off for lunch, you had to prove you had an urgent assignment to work through and then you got paid for it. And come 5.30 everyone was out, the lights went off, and you didn’t think about work until the next day, unless you were on the rota for one evening job a week. Working at weekends? Only if you’d volunteered to cover a concert or a sporting match because you wanted to, otherwise it was rest and recuperate.

No email, no mobile phones, no text, no whatsapp, just 8.30 am to 5.30 pm with two mandatory hours off in the day. I was a cub reporter, just 16 at the time, but I was cared for as such. My managers were supportive and patient as they taught me, I wasn’t expected to know everything, or pull the moon from the sky on day one.

I may have got lucky, but my experience wasn’t a million miles away from other Gen Xers. Let’s face it, the internet wasn’t seriously a thing until at least 1995, and even then, it was considered a luxury. It was probably 1998 before companies were seriously into emails, Social media? Facebook didn’t go mainstream until 2005.

In very basic terms, most Gen Xers would have reached the age of 30 to 35 by the time that any of the factors which have contributed to today’s ‘always on’ culture began to even coalesce into the work landscape.

This is important because a) they were physically more mature, they had time to grow up leave the physical and emotional chaos of adolescence in the rearview mirror, and b) they had time to incorporate each of these step-changes over a longer period, and c) having had at least a decade in the workplace they had time to develop confidence, experience, skills and resilience.

And, one last statistic worth noting, while many of my age love to recall how hard our lives were and how hard we worked (and by our perceptions we did) if we take GDP as one measure of required workplace productivity, in the US GDP has risen since 1990 to 2020 by 262 percent.

So, by that measure, the output required for a Gen Z entering the workforce today is around 3.5 times more than was expected of my generation when we started.

A clumsy measure, perhaps, but Gen Zers, who are still yet to even finish properly physically growing, have more to deal with than ever.

Gen Z stress factors

For an independent assessment, we asked Chat GPT, what its globally sourced data suggested were the stress factors for Gen Z:

Pressure to succeed:

Gen Z individuals often feel intense pressure to excel academically and professionally. This pressure can lead to a culture of overwork and a lack of work-life balance, which can contribute to burnout. Social media has created a culture of comparison and competition.

Constant stimulation and screen time:

Gen Z individuals have grown up in a world where technology and social media are ever-present. This can create a constant sense of stimulation and pressure to be “plugged in” at all times. This can lead to a sense of overwhelm and burnout.

Economic uncertainty:

Many members of Gen Z are entering the workforce during a time of economic uncertainty. They may struggle to find stable, well-paying jobs that provide a sense of financial security. This can lead to a sense of burnout as they struggle to balance the demands of work and the need to earn a living.

Lack of community and connection:

Gen Z individuals may struggle to find a sense of community and connection in a world that is increasingly digital and global. This can lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection, which can contribute to burnout.

Mental health concerns:

Gen Z individuals are more likely to report mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression than previous generations. These concerns can contribute to burnout as individuals struggle to manage their symptoms while also meeting the demands of daily life.

These mirror the findings in Cigna’s latest global white paper, in which the authors wrote: “The biggest cause of employee stress, especially amongst younger people is the economic outlook.

“This is where a Whole Health approach is needed. There is a clear link between stress and financial security, and employees that struggle to cope with stress are more concerned about personal finance; 38 percent of stressed employees vs 32 percent on average.

“We also see a similar disparity between the generations, with 39 percent of Gen Z and 34 percent of Millennials saying money was now the lead cause of stress. This compares to 29 percent of 50-64-year-olds and 21 percent of those older than 65.

“Uncertainty about the future is another major concern amongst younger employees, with 34 percent of Gen Z citing it as a key stressor, compared to 31 percent of Millennials and only 21 percent of those aged over 65.

“Young employees are also worried about a lack of opportunities, with a quarter (24 percent) of Gen Z worried about a lack of learning and jobs, compared to only 14% of 35 to 49-year olds and 9 percent of 50-64-year-olds.”

In very real terms, whether straight out of high school education, or university, we are throwing our kids into a workplace inferno which is raging hotter than it ever has and then we call them ‘entitled’.

Just as a closing remark it’s also worth remembering that in the recent Bupa Executive Survey, 94 percent of leaders reported symptoms of burnout, and 50 percent wanted a new job with a better work-life balance.

The fact is we are all ‘entitled’ to better, and the sooner we recognise this, and support young workers coming into the world of employment the better.

A recent McKinsey report captured burnout rates across the GCC. Click the picture to read.

Five ways to reduce workplace stress for your Gen Z team:

Encourage open communication:

Creating a workplace culture that encourages open and honest communication can help prevent workplace stress. Encouraging employees to speak up about their concerns, providing regular feedback, and fostering a sense of psychological safety can help create a positive and supportive work environment.

Provide opportunities for professional growth:

Providing opportunities for professional development and growth can help employees feel engaged and motivated, which can reduce workplace stress. Offering training programs, mentoring, and opportunities for advancement can help employees feel valued and supported.

Foster work-life balance:

Encouraging employees to prioritise self-care and take breaks throughout the day can help prevent burnout. Encouraging them to set boundaries between work and personal time and to take regular breaks from technology can also be helpful.

Recognise and reward good work:

Recognising and rewarding employees for their hard work can help boost morale and reduce stress. Providing positive feedback, offering incentives, and celebrating achievements can all help create a positive and supportive work environment.

Foster a positive workplace culture:

Creating a workplace culture that values diversity, inclusion, and teamwork can help prevent workplace stress. Encouraging collaboration, celebrating diversity, and creating a sense of belonging can all contribute to a positive and supportive work environment.