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Anxiety, Depression and Generation Z: Getting it right

Forget about millennials. Young people now belong to "Generation Z," a cohort that demographers generally define as those born since 1998.

Researchers have spent a lot of effort understanding the attitudes and experiences of people born in the 1980s and early 1990s (i.e., Generation Y, or millennials), who are better educated and poorer than their older counterparts, the Gen Xers and boomers. But these same researchers have collected far less data on Generation Z, who can barely remember a world without social media and smartphones.

In America, Gen Zers now make up about a quarter of the population. Yet this generation is more anxious and depressed than previous generations.

Alarming numbers

Research shows that Gen Zers are currently the most stressed individuals in the population.

The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that:

  • 90% of Gen Zers experienced psychological or physical symptoms due to stress in the year 2022.

  • 70% of Gen Zers say that anxiety and depression are significant problems among their peers.

  • 30% of parents surveyed believe their Gen Z child has been negatively impacted emotionally or mentally by social distancing and school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, according to McKinsey Insights, released in 2022, 25% of Generation Z members report emotional distress, nearly double the levels reported by older generations.

Stress and mental health, also an issue at work

A Deloitte survey conducted in 2022 reports that stress and anxiety levels are high among Gen Zers and women. This survey of Generation Z and millennials reveals that while stress and anxiety affect both generations (Z and millennials), it is higher among members of Generation Z than millennials.

46% of Gen Zers report being stressed or anxious all or most of the time, with women being more affected than men (53% vs. 39%). This compares to 38% of millennials, with a smaller gender gap (41% women vs. 36% men).

Women's increased stress levels are also echoed in Deloitte's Women@Work study, also released in 2022, which found that 53% of women felt more stressed than the previous year.

The pandemic has highlighted the global mental health crisis. It is also having an impact in the workplace and in school and university settings. However, the Deloitte survey shows that while Gen Zers and millennials have mental health issues, the majority (57% of Gen Zers and 53% of millennials) recognize that workplace wellness has become more important to their employers since the pandemic began.

For empathetic leadership

This new reality highlights the importance of having managers who place empathy at the heart of leadership. Developing a culture of trust and inclusion is the best way for employers to have a real impact on the mental well-being of their employees.

Allowing individuals to be themselves at work will not only increase engagement and diversity, but will create an environment in which they feel able to freely discuss their stress and anxiety issues without fear of being judged by their colleagues and superiors.

Empathetic leadership is in this sense a critical factor in workplace well-being, as is the ability of managers to understand and talk about mental health.

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