So, Blue Monday’s been and gone for another year.
And that means we can all breathe a sigh of relief and start smiling again, right?
Hmm, if only it was so simple.
According to research from GoodShape (as reported by Personel Today), more than half of the 2,000 employees surveyed (55%) felt worried to call in sick with mental health problems.
Unfortunately, the calendar might suggest it’s a brand new year but that age-old stigma is still alive and well.
To make matters worse, further studies revealed a staggering 82% of Gen Z employees want mental health days. So with this in mind, it’s high time we listen to the cries of our younger workers – especially considering they’ll make up 27% of the workforce in just two years.
With rising costs of living, the climate crisis and all of the other online pressures that come with being a generation of digital natives, Gen Z workers have every right to feel “emosh”.
Don’t worry, there’s plenty employers can do to look after the emotional well-being of our youngest workers. And if you have their back, they’ll support you all the way.
Setting younger staff up for success
We’re all feeling the pinch at the mo.
But it’s hard to argue that younger workers who have recently left home and are trying to find their feet aren’t being hit the hardest.
In fact, almost nine in ten (88%) Gen Zers surveyed by graduate-jobs.com and GradTouch (as reported by HR News) believe their future careers will be impacted by the current cost of living. Worryingly, one in twenty (5%) are already using food banks, with a quarter (24%) expecting to use them in future.
And this hardship will undoubtedly take an emotional toll.
“Inflation is soaring, and the price of energy is rising along with petrol, food, and even basic living necessities. (And let’s not get started on the mortgage rate rise). Things are only set to worsen, and your people will need your support more than ever over the next couple of years,” argues Jill King, regional vice president of UKIMEA at Virgin Pulse.
But this doesn’t have to mean hiking up salaries if your business can’t afford to maintain them in the long run. Instead, helping to support ‘Generation Precariat’ could come in the form of a one-off cost of living payment; especially useful with those soaring energy prices if your younger workers are WFH.
Speaking of working from home, it’s important to ensure staff have the right tech to do their jobs properly. After all, there’s nothing more stressful than an older laptop struggling through updates when you’re trying to get things done. When one-third of Gen Z employees now expect their employer to provide them with modern technology – whilst one in five won’t tolerate bad experiences at all – it’s in your best interest as well as theirs to ensure they’re set up for success.
But that’s only if Gen Zers believe they’re capable of success in the first place.
Pulling the plug on imposter syndrome and burnout
The looming dread of imposter syndrome isn’t anything new.
The thing is: this psychological sensation can be massively exaggerated in a remote working environment; a place where communication can easily go awry. In fact, 91% of office workers have actually said that their colleagues have misinterpreted their digital messages.
But overthinking and “Slack-splaining” aren’t even the worst symptoms of imposter syndrome. In younger workers, this unhelpful phenomenon is now linked to increased levels of burnout too.
According to the Anatomy of Work Index, 46% of respondents said they were experiencing both imposter syndrome and burnout at the same time.
That’s a lot to deal with at once. So what’s going on?
The same research revealed that 37% of the workers surveyed didn’t have a clear start and finish time for their workday; likely compounded by the blurred boundaries that come from remote working.
And with a generation of young workers who are eager to impress upper management, whilst also trying to silence their inner saboteurs, it’s easy to see how imposter syndrome can quickly lead to hidden overwork and burnout.
But when you’re more than likely working “together” from afar these days, what can you do?
“To combat burnout and imposter syndrome, business leaders need to exhibit behaviours that establish norms in the workplace,” says Dr Sahar Yousef, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley.
But what is normal these days, anyway? Well, according to Yousef, some workplace traits should never change.
“The old saying that the manager shouldn’t be the last one to leave the office every night still rings true for burnout,” he tells Nick Lucchesi at Asana.
Dr Yousef suggests a solid framework that can help introduce some healthy work-life balance: the “3M Framework for Breaks”. Yousef’s framework is made up of three ways to tune out of work and boost employee well-being. It goes like this:
- Macro breaks – these are monthly slots that can last for a full day. They usually involved an activity that allows employees to fully disengage from work, e.g. going on a hike or a lengthy bike ride. But if exercise isn’t their thing, how about a day festival instead?
- Meso breaks – these are more regular (usually weekly) one to two-hour breaks. For example, it could be going to hot yoga, cooking a special meal or learning a new instrument. Again, any mindful activity that can encourage their full focus on something that isn’t working.
- Micro breaks – finally, these types of breaks should be taken several times a day. They could be something like a short walk around the park or 5-10 minute meditations on something like Headspace. Basically, you’re looking to replace those kitchen coffee-making sessions or water cooler chats. Daily workplace rituals that Gen Z workers aren’t just missing out on; many have likely never experienced in the first place.
But these types of things only work if managers lead by example. So make regular breaks a standard part of the working day, try not to respond to emails at the weekend – especially to Gen Z workers – and silence those Slack notifications after five. If Gen Z is missing the social cues and soft skills that come from being in the office, you can still show them how it’s done from afar.
Taking Gen Z’s word for it on workplace wellbeing
Last year, LinkedIn reported that 66% of Gen Z employees want a company culture built on mental health and wellness. And when nearly half of Gen Z workers revealed they’re stressed all or most of the time, who can blame them?
Gen Z understands that workplace well-being shouldn’t be a nice to have; a “perk” advertised on an employee value proposition. In 2023, it should go without saying.
Maybe then Blue Monday won’t be a day to dread on the calendar. For the kids that Gen Z manages in 2043, it’ll just be a myth. Wouldn’t that be nice?