The Impact of COVID-19 on Millennials and Gen Z’s Mental Health (And What You Can Do About It)
While everyone is struggling during COVID-19, Millennials and Gen Z are facing a unique set of challenges. Internships are being cancelled, jobs are being furloughed, and they’re unable to network through normal channels for career opportunities. Along with the isolation that accompanies working from home, virtual networking is causing high levels of stress and burnout. All of these combined factors are taking its toll on Millenials and Gen Z’s mental health.
With everything subject to change and so much that’s beyond their control, it’s normal for Millennials and Gen Zers to feel anxious and fearful. As we continue to adapt to this ever-changing climate, the question on all of our minds is: “how do we protect our mental health and stay calm amidst the chaos?”
While all generations are affected in different ways, Millennials and Gen Z are the ones we need to worry about. This is because prior to the pandemic there was a rise in depression among Millenials.
In fact, a 2019 report from Blue Cross Blue Shield shows Millennials’ mental health has been declining at a faster rate compared to Generation X. As a result, they are at the greatest risk of developing mental health issues during this time. The most common are Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depression. COVID-19 has simply magnified a pre-existing problem.
How the Coronavirus Is Affecting Both Generations
Millenials and Gen Z are experiencing the negative ripple effects of financial hardship. Unemployment and less income are causing delays in important milestones: moving out, getting married, having kids and buying a house.
Unfortunately, things will get worse before they get better. According to Euromonitor’s forecast, the average global gross income of 25 to 29 year-olds will drop by 49% in 2020, and a similar trend is predicted for younger generations.
For Gen Z specifically, they are experiencing uncertainty and frustration after graduating with limited career opportunities. This is similar to millenials who graduated during the 2008 financial crisis. Gen Z is also grappling with the culture shock of limited social activity and having the hardest time adapting to isolation, compared to other generations.
Millennials, on the other hand, are dealing with stress of work/life balance: caring for their families, working full-time, and homeschooling children. All of these factors lead to anxiety, depression and other mental issues.
Turning Challenges into Opportunities
As with all things in life, perspective is everything. And the only way to get through this difficult time – and this applies to everyone – is to reframe your perspective.
Let’s face it: change is scary. Oftentimes, change is thrust upon you even if you aren’t ready for it. But the beauty of change is that it brings new opportunities. The coronavirus has forced everyone to take a step back and think about what they really want. Self-reflection is one of the biggest silver linings of this pandemic.
There are a few major opportunities for Millennials and Gen Zers to change how we work and live our lives. Here’s how companies can help deliver these opportunities to their young employees who make up close to 75% of the workforce:
1. Changing what “the office” looks like
COVID-19 has shown us we can work anywhere and don’t need to be in the same physical space to be productive. This is an opportunity to create a balance between being chained to a desk and never spending time with your boss and colleagues in person.
For example, teams can come together several times a year to connect and strategize. Those who prefer to work remotely can stay home and those who prefer to meet in person can come to the office.
Companies are already responding and allowing their employees to work from home on a permanent basis. However, this isn’t what Millennials and Gen Zers want. They want to strike a balance between collaboration and freedom. As a result, employers need to figure out a new strategy for employees moving forward and how to strike the best balance for everyone.
How we learn and how we collaborate will become a major issue in the years ahead. Therefore, it’s necessary for employers to be more sensitive to each person’s learning style and respond accordingly.
When it’s safe for people to return to the office, employers can give their team the option of face-to-face or remote meetings. Since most employees spend their days going from one meeting to the next, this is a chance for employers to change this constant “meeting” culture. It’s an opportunity to connect and collaborate in person and then, allow people to work wherever they prefer.
2. Shift away from the constant need to be working
After spending thousands of hours sitting across from Millenials and Gen Zers, I’ve noticed there is a real lack of clarity around “work time” and “my time.” So, what’s causing this blurred line?
Our fast-paced, tech-driven culture has created a lot of unnecessary pressure. There’s a feeling that we have to respond right away to our emails and messages. If we’re home, many of us feel the most effective use of our time is to work. This can create anxiety even when we’re not working because we know we could be working.
The feeling of “I can be working” is so overpowering that it is causing free-floating anxiety for people in the workforce. When I started talking about these issues and problem-solving with clients, I learned something very interesting.
While there were times when their boss asked them to work late, the need to check emails after hours and work late was self-imposed. Young people today are struggling to figure out how to stop checking emails and make the choice to leave early. They are trying to change their pattern of thinking in order to make more time for themselves and better manage their anxiety.
Employees have to create their own boundaries around their time and energy. They have to determine how much they will and won’t work, how productive they can be in that moment and what makes sense for them in order to be mentally and physically healthy.
Also, it’s important for them to understand that they will be working a long time. There’s a widely held belief among Millenials and Gen Z that that there will be time in the future to rest. This is part of the reason they are currently pushing themselves past their limits. However, that’s not what will work in the long-term.
Change starts from the top. The CEO and C-suite are responsible for creating this kind of culture change at their level. It’s important for managers to recognize that they set the tone of their department. If they are working all the time and sending emails on a Saturday, that’s the tone they will be setting for everyone under them.
3. Make mental health a priority
Millennials and Gen Zers have less of a stigma around mental health. They recognize that a person’s anxiety or depression can greatly affect their ability to be productive.
COVID-19 will continue to impact us for years to come. The long-term effects of being in a heightened state of anxiety – which is what we are all experiencing – is important for companies to understand. The employees coming back to work are not the same people who left. They’ve been through something that rewired the neurons in their brains and changed them forever. Chronic anxiety and depression can have a significant impact on your overall health and well-being.
Younger generations are asking themselves some very important questions. They don’t want to return to work like nothing has happened; they want their lives to have meaning and purpose and want support from the people around them.
As a result, companies need to provide mental health services for their employees. They can’t assume employees will go through the process on their own. Finding a therapist is very difficult, but employers can make this process much easier. Some employers offer therapy at the office (now through Zoom) and contracts with outside companies that provide mental health services.
A Turning Point for Our Nation: It’s Up to Employers to Create Positive Change
There are many misconceptions about how young people are responding to COVID-19. The news has focused primarily on how Millennials and Gen Zers are disregarding the shelter-in-place rules by throwing large parties and refusing to cancel vacation plans. However, this portrayal is narrow-minded and doesn’t accurately showcase the big picture.
It’s important to keep in mind that these are transformative and important years for both generations. We must understand that they are navigating through this time by themselves and with no experience to guide them through.
This can be a turning point for our nation. If employers and those in charge (the older generations) can see how our culture of work has been hurting younger people, they can take the steps to change things moving forward.
First and foremost, we need to stop seeing COVID-19 as a time we have to “get through.” Instead, we should simply focus on getting back to normal. It’s necessary for employers to recognize that their employees are struggling. As a result, they should be looking for new ways to restructure their work cultures and ensure they are getting the mental health help they need. Most importantly, they need to eliminate the expectation of working all the time and create a healthier work-life balance.
We’re all responsible for making sure our youth is getting the help they need. We’re all responsible for ensuring this next generation is not stifled or stunted by this virus so they can become resilient.
Compassion is the first step. Understand how hard this pandemic is for everyone and stop getting angry at the images of young people “partying,” because that is not the sum total of the younger generation.
It’s through crisis that we learn who we are and what we’re truly capable of, but we don’t have to always do things alone. Together, we can help the next generation to thrive and prove to us they have the resilience it takes to succeed.