Before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, nearly half of Gen Z and Millennial respondents in the Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2020 reported feeling stressed all or most of the time, citing family welfare, long-term finances and job prospects as primary causes. Perhaps surprisingly, in a follow-up “pulse” survey conducted mid-pandemic in May, stress levels among both generations fell about eight percentage points, hinting that the slowdown of life in lockdown may have reduced stress.
Despite the dip, respondents seem more inclined than previous generations to consider stress problematic and mental health important. Half of Millennials and Gen Zers questioned in the primary survey said they think stress is a legitimate reason to take time off from work, and almost one in three actually did so in the past year.
However, there are lingering stigmas regarding stress. For example, in the primary survey, only 44% of Millennials globally (and 38% of Gen Zers) who took time off work because of stress or anxiety issues admitted that was the reason to their employers. Most—especially women, who were significantly less likely than men to admit the cause of their absences (54% to 45%)—cited other reasons. Millennials who were candid about their absences were three times as likely to say their organizations provided strong mental health support (52%) rather than little or no support (16%).
The physical and emotional burdens of anxiety do more than cause people to miss work. They can also affect people’s overall job performance and, ultimately, their job loyalty, making this a critical issue for employers to focus on.
Stress Remains A Pervasive Issue Despite Slight Decline During The Pandemic
Despite the slight declines seen in the follow-up survey, stress and mental wellness remain critical issues for younger generations, and these issues are manifested in work settings. According to the Household Pulse Survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics and the Census Bureau to assess changes in mental health, 18-to-29-year-olds and 30-to-39-year-olds consistently report higher rates of anxiety and depression symptoms as compared with other age groups.
Family welfare, long-term finances and job prospects remain the primary sources of stress in the midst of the pandemic. Financial concerns are a particularly acute stressor for Millennials, many of whom began their careers in the wake of the Great Recession and now face another downturn. During the pandemic, 61% of Millennials foresee their financial situations worsening or stagnating in the next year. However, the Deloitte survey reveals a broad range of issues weighing on Millennials’ and Gen Zers’ minds—including everything from climate change to work/life balance to political uncertainty.
“It’s easy to see why the global conversation on mental health is picking up pace and becoming more prominent around boardroom tables,” says Michele Parmelee, chief people and purpose officer, Deloitte Global. “Considering that stress has a direct, negative impact on work productivity, employers need to understand and embrace their role in helping alleviate stress and reducing the drivers of poor mental health at work.”
An Imperative For Leaders
Considering that all of these concerns could be exacerbated as the pandemic continues to unfold, employee mental health should be a priority for employers, if it’s not already. All employers should research and understand the root causes of mental health challenges among workers in general, and their own people in particular—and create or update programs based on their learnings.
Emma Codd, inclusion leader at Deloitte Global, also emphasizes the importance of leaders being aware of, and working to address, any stigmas that may exist: “One of the major barriers to people disclosing mental health concerns—and getting support—is the existence of stigma. An employee may know they are facing mental health challenges but could fear that they will be labeled or stigmatized if they disclose it to a colleague. Leaders can play a big part in reducing this stigma by openly talking about mental health, asking if they are okay and knowing what to do next to offer support should people say they need it.”
Deloitte proposes five simple steps leaders can take today to not only support employees’ mental health but also strengthen their teams’ engagement and sense of community both during the pandemic and beyond.
Stay connected: Reach out to colleagues who may be feeling isolated during social distancing to ask them whether they are okay. Before reaching out, make sure you know the resources available to provide your colleagues with support should they need it.
Collaborate on workable solutions: Stress and anxiety can be worsened by adding concerns over work deadlines. Make sure you have considered new ways to work that may ease the load and negate the need for tight deadlines.
See the big picture: Take time to understand the pressures that your team members may be under in the current situation, and don’t make assumptions based on perceptions—whether it be isolation or feeling overwhelmed, each person has their own experience.
Offer resources: Make sure that information about the resources your organization provides is easily accessible and up to date.
Take time to ask and listen: Asking, “Are you okay?” is a simple question that can make a big difference to someone who needs help; however, know that it may take asking a couple of times for someone to really answer openly and that people will tend to share more with those they trust.
“Employers that recognize the importance of addressing mental health in the workplace will reap the benefits, both in the near and long term,” Parmelee says. “This includes everything from greater productivity to increased employee loyalty to a more diverse and inclusive culture.”