The coronavirus pandemic has shown that mental health is essential for our quality of life, independence and ability to work. According to the Swiss Corona Stress Study (De Quervain, Aerni, Amini, Bentz, Coynel & Gerhards, 2021) of November 2021, around 19% of Swiss people "currently suffer from moderate to severe depressive symptoms". Almost one in five struggles with difficulty concentrating, feeling worthless and fragile self-esteem, as well as problems falling asleep or staying asleep. The study results show a steep upward curve, with young people being most affected. "Severe depressive symptoms" were found to be most common among 14 to 24-year-olds with a share of 33%.
Research into the causes clearly shows that subliminal pressure to perform well is the greatest stress factor for the schoolchildren and students surveyed. An important indicator for the general handling of stress is that we tend to unconsciously load external demands with our own inner expectations. One essential focus of occupational health management (OHM) today is therefore the creation and maintenance of individual and interpersonal stress management resources.
A young generation without enough space
Generation Z, i.e. everyone between the ages of 10 and 25, now accounts for around 40% of the world’s population. This is the first generation to fully grow up in a time of rapid technological innovation and immersive global connectivity. From the outset, therefore, they are shaped by a strong mix of personal and global themes.
Current world events with topics such as climate change, pandemic, war and the social credit system trigger a strong desire in Generation Z to get involved at a high level, make an impact and actively contribute to a positive future (Deloitte, 2022). Unclear narratives in the media combined with subliminal worries and even impressions of instability in their circle of family and friends create a widespread feeling of being alone and constantly under pressure. In view of the many uncertainties and overwhelming amount of opportunities, Generation Z has great difficulty finding their bearings, making decisions, and finding their way in general. They have a range of values that is sometimes very polarised, and navigating them is anything but easy.
For individuals, the consequences can lead to chronic conflict avoidance, a lack of meaning, lethargy and even depression. A tendency towards extreme positions and compulsive activism for "the right and the good" are also common. To promote the mental health of the younger generation in the long term, the focus is on guidance and decision-making as well as awareness of their actual personal needs and desires in terms of healthy intrinsic motivation. Training self-reflection skills and raising awareness of burnout issues are gaining in importance for health management work.
New values: wellbeing and work-life balance
Even if – or precisely because – Generation Z often finds it difficult to switch off properly or fully engage, they are highly aware of the fundamental importance of health for a good quality of life. Young people want a balanced lifestyle and a healthy work-life balance (Deloitte, 2022). They are more aware of the central importance of mental health than previous generations, and want to be able to talk openly about their fears and worries. They don’t want to deal with these issues alone and neither do they want to hide away. Sharing worries and fears reduces pressure and can help reduce inhibitions. In practice, however, many people unconsciously hold on to high ideals and make demands on themselves, and the actual causes of stress are not identified. Effective and experience-oriented OHM mental health services promote self-efficacy, self-care and the ability to relax, while making the employer’s commitment and employee focus more visible in terms of employer branding.
Onboarding Generation Z
One of the most relevant ways to burn out is to gradually stop listening. A healthy balance between the inner world and external demands seems utopian these days. It is worth noting that people in therapeutic, caring and sustainably oriented professions are especially susceptible to exhaustion. The strong focus on outcome, realising potential and change may lead us to notice and acknowledge our performance limits to a lesser extent. Our minds write cheques that our bodies are unable to pay. If we are constantly chasing unrealistic goals, we put ourselves under increasing pressure and get caught up in our own thoughts. The ability of managers and employees to consciously communicate with each other will therefore play an even more vital role in maintaining and promoting mental health in OHM in future.
Awareness of pressure
When dealing with young people, managers need to recognise that they are often under a great deal of pressure. This may not be easy to see or understand from the outside, and neither does the background have to be personal. Beneath the superficial confidence – the impression of having "been there, done that" ("I know that already") – there are often strong feelings of not belonging and being misunderstood. Many young people don’t really know where they want to go and feel out of place, maybe without being able to put this into words. For them to open up, Generation Z wants to be treated sincerely, respectfully and on equal terms, even if experiences differ significantly. They define themselves more by an ideal image of humanity than by previous achievements.
Understanding of authority
Their pronounced need for security and desire for equality give Generation Z a higher internal inhibition threshold when it comes to engaging with existing processes and line managers. Gen Zs are used to questioning the status quo and being able to have their say. It is therefore important for them to know that the authority experienced is on their side and to be able to trust it. This requires transparency and a great deal of coherence and competency. Authentic appreciation and genuine recognition pave the way for a sufficient sense of belonging, to enable Gen Z to really open up and want to be involved.
Owing to sometimes exaggerated ideas about the ideal image of humanity and often strong ideas about optimum working conditions, conflict behaviour has shifted among the younger generation. In addition, their willingness to stay is significantly lower – partly due to the switch from an employers’ market to an employees’ market – and they leave more quickly than before. The phenomenon of "ghosting" has thus transferred to the workplace. A systematic error and feedback culture is helpful for Generation Z. This way, an open approach to difficulties and setbacks can be established and their natural resilience strengthened.
During the initial phase in particular, fixed contact persons are helpful in order to make them feel welcome, involved and visible. It is less important whether this is a buddy system, activities and lunch meetings with peers, or regular 1:1 meetings with the manager. Here, too, it is vital to show real interest and create an authentic connection. The downside may be that particularly empathetic team members get too involved and take care of all the problems themselves. In order to promote a healthy sense of personal responsibility on all sides, a clear perception and communication of personal needs and limits is required, especially in teams with younger colleagues.
Future-oriented OHM: mental health in business environments
In the future, the attractiveness of employers will be based less on high salaries and impressive high-performance teams, but rather on a sustainable purpose, an inclusive team culture and proactive health promotion. Generation Z is characterised by a disruptive understanding of values towards established working models. This is no easy task for employers, but taking current mental health issues seriously in good time not only helps ensure the employee’s future ability to work, but also directly helps make a connection between health and performance. Generation Z in particular appreciates this. OHM will be a catalyst for bringing the human and economic factors closer together in the future.
elipsLife supports employers with specific awareness programmes for managers. The possible focal points include the connections between stress, work and health, the progression and background of the burnout spiral, early detection and prevention options, the concept of psychological safety at work, and the cultivation of personal and interpersonal stress management resources.
Deloitte, (2022). The mental health of Gen Zs and millennials in the new world of work: Mai 2022.
Deloitte, (2022). The Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey: 2022.
De Quervain, D., Aerni, A., Amini, E., Bentz, D., Coynel, D., Gerhards, C., … Zuber, P. (2021). The Swiss Corona Stress Study: November 2021.