Gen Z brings a whole new vibe to the workplace: Anxiety

When Emma Malcolmson worked retail jobs in high school and college, she never experienced anxiety. “Retail is no walk in the park,” she told me. She had been busy all day long with angry customers in the store, but when the store closed she found it easy to just close up and forget about her work. After college, she began working remotely in digital public relations. Now, at 25, she says: “There’s something going on every day that makes me feel at least a little bit anxious.”

There’s a steady stream of laptop notifications, incomprehensible messages from faceless colleagues, and invisible clients she’s trying to impress via email. “When you’re working by yourself, you can’t tell the tone of someone else’s voice,” she said. “You’re just circling and thinking about every possible meaning, and most of the time, it probably doesn’t mean anything at all.”

From small talk around the coffee machine to presentations on Zoom, the workplace can be a breeding ground for anxiety. This feeling has been exacerbated by the past few years of pandemic lockdowns and the instability and relentless upheaval that have followed. Working remotely “can make everything feel more intense,” Malcolmson said. “It’s a lot harder for me to mentally release the stress of the day,” she added.

The turmoil of the past few years has left workers of all ages more stressed: In Gallup’s 2022 Workplace Survey, 52% of workers in the U.S. and Canada said they experience record levels of stress at work every day. According to statistics from the Health and Safety Executive, work-related stress, anxiety and depression increased by 14% in the UK compared with 2020. But Gen Z, who are just starting out in their careers, are going through a particularly difficult time. In a 2022 survey by meditation app Calm, 58% of Gen Z said they often or always feel anxious, while a third of Gen X and baby boomers said the same, a sharp increase rise. A Deloitte survey of 22,000 people in March found similar results: Nearly half of Gen Z said they felt anxious and stressed almost all the time, while only 39% of Millennials said they felt the same.

It’s clear: Gen Z is anxious. While anxiety was affecting all aspects of their lives, the impact in the workplace became especially severe and began to unsettle their bosses.

distant generation

Gen Z’s experience entering the professional world is anything but typical. Like previous generations, they bring a new perspective to the office and change the dynamics of the workplace. However, unlike previous generations, Gen Z is entering the workforce for the first time at a time when many people around the world are rethinking their relationship with work.

The rise of remote working means that Gen Z no longer adapts to professional life by watching their colleagues perform in the office, but relies largely on their own devices. The lack of on-the-job guidance, coupled with layoffs and the impact of inflation, has many Gen Zers nervous.

Nearly half of workers aged 18 to 29 say their jobs have had a negative impact on their mental health, according to a survey conducted by Gallup. In some cases, workplace stress manifests as a sense of ambivalence and withdrawal from professional life. Another Gallup survey found that Gen Z is the least engaged and most burned out group in the workplace. In response, Gen Z employees are taking far more sick days than their older colleagues for mental health issues.

“As is well documented, anxious teams are less likely to take risks, innovate, and have less psychological safety,” says Maura Ahrens-Meller, author of The Anxious Achiever. U.S. A 2021 workplace survey from the Anxiety and Depression Association revealed that 56% of employees surveyed said anxiety affected their performance at work. Half said it had a negative impact on their relationships with co-workers, and 43% said it affected their relationships with their supervisors.

By 2025, Generation Z will account for 27% of the workforce in major Western countries and one-third of the global population. Experts say if the vast majority of people remain too stressed to participate effectively in the labor market, the consequences could be devastating not only in economic terms, but also from a social and wider social perspective. Absenteeism and lost productivity already cost the U.S. economy more than $47 billion annually.

‘I really don’t know the protocol’

After Cloey Callahan graduated from college in 2020, she began working as a remote contract reporter for various newspapers in upstate New York. Now 25, she works remotely as a senior reporter at media company WorkLife. “When I was in college, I did a lot of internships, so I feel like that really helped me prepare a little bit,” she said. But with no other office experience, she said she felt anxious about certain things, such as not knowing how her coworkers were doing.

“I’ve been emailing people. I’ve been messaging people on Slack,” she told me. “Then I started to get anxious: ‘Am I going too far? Am I slacking on others?’ I really didn’t know the protocol because I’d never been in an office.”

Callahan found that instead of using her meetings with her managers to focus on career development, she spent time comparing herself to others and listing her concerns. While Gen Zers being honest about their feelings may be helpful in some situations, some bosses say it can also hinder the development of younger employees.

You don’t know what you don’t know. If you’re not surrounded by people and don’t notice little things, how do you know to ask?

One millennial boss told Business Insider that one of the biggest challenges she faces with her younger employees is the variety of feelings they have about their jobs.

“On the one hand, I appreciated his willingness to share his feelings, and I was surprised at how comfortable he was speaking his mind,” she said of one of her reports. “But on the other hand, it’s not my job as the boss to help him deal with all of his work-related feelings.”

Expressing your feelings openly can also lead to oversharing, making it difficult for managers to help anxious new hires stay calm. Callahan herself admits that focusing on her anxieties during manager check-ins may not be the best use of her time. “I’m trying to be more aware of it and set boundaries for myself,” she said.

Lou Ali, 41, who manages Malcolmson and another Gen Z employee at public relations agency Honcho, said she is puzzled by the paradox of Gen Z’s workplace anxiety. Ali told me that on the one hand, many Gen Zers come across as confident. “I thought it was too much of a bluff,” she said. But behind the strong appearance, Ali noticed that many young employees were struggling to find their place, saying: “In fact, they have a lot of self-esteem issues or uncertainty about career development.” Ali noticed that if her young subordinates Lack of immediate career advancement undermines their confidence, she said: “They want to know what they did wrong.”

Despite setbacks, most managers extend some grace to younger employees. “I used to go to the office every day, five days a week,” Ali said. “I can talk to my colleagues about my anxieties, whereas younger employees can’t.” She adds, “You don’t know what you don’t know. If there’s no one around you who doesn’t notice little things, how do you know to ask?” “

Coping with uncertainty

Experts tell me that at the heart of Gen Z’s concerns about jobs is uncertainty. It’s natural to feel uneasy when starting a new chapter in your life, exacerbated by the shift to remote work and the disruption of new work paradigms.

“Anxiety is driven by uncertainty,” says clinical psychologist Ellen Hendrickson, author of How to Be Yourself: Silencing Your Inner Critic and Beyond Social Anxiety. Hendrickson said that because Gen Z grew up in the digital age with almost unlimited information at their fingertips, they have the least experience with uncertainty. “When you need to know where to go, you open Google Maps,” she said. “If you’re going to a new restaurant, you can look at the menu ahead of time. There are a lot of certainties in the world now that didn’t exist before.”

But at work, certainty is often lacking, and this is exacerbated in remote workplaces where confrontation is easily avoided. “Anxiety is maintained through avoidance,” Henriksen says. “When we’re anxious, our first reaction is often to avoid the thing that scares us, so if we’re anxious about speaking up in a meeting, we’re likely to remain silent. If we’re anxious about answering the phone, we’ll Have those calls go to voicemail.”

Whether it’s sensing if a briefing is going on too long or understanding the subtext of what someone is saying, managing the way you work is an essential skill.

A lack of experience dealing with uncertainty creates what Michelle P. King, author of How Work Works, calls the “ambiguity skills gap.” Kim said that for the younger generation, this manifests itself in two ways: “First, the ambiguity of tasks, such as solving problems without clear solutions, engaging in complex tasks with a high degree of novelty, and creative thinking about problems.” fly. ” As a result, many Gen Zers struggle to manage how their work is done and lack confidence in work decisions without all the necessary information.

The second impact is social interaction. This year, King partnered with OnePoll to survey 2,000 Gen Z in the UK and US. In the study, 30% of respondents aged 18 to 24 said having romantic relationships at work caused them more stress, and nine in 10 said they avoided face-to-face meetings because of social anxiety activity, nearly a quarter said they felt uncomfortable speaking up in team meetings and sharing their ideas.

“In the new world of work, we have to manage how we work with others,” King said. “That is, knowing how to interpret other people’s feelings and intentions so that you can manage informal interactions with them. Whether it’s perceiving a presentation as taking too long or understanding the subtext of what someone is saying, managing the way you work is an important Methods. Basic skills.”

Bosses have plenty of soft skills exercises in the office, and they can make a difference in helping their youngest employees. “Managers need to close this skills gap by providing ongoing coaching and feedback so graduates can perform their jobs without all the information, respond to changing situations on the job, and learn how to adapt their communication styles to Connect with different people,” King said.

While anxiety at work may be nothing new, the workplace itself has changed dramatically in recent years. “I definitely think there’s always been an anxiety about ‘young people in the workplace wanting to do well,’” Malcolmson told me. “But I think it’s felt more strongly now.”

Eve Upton-Clark is a features writer covering culture and society.

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