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Gen Z and Millennials - Engaging the anxious & ethical generations

Being young isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be, if a 2021 survey is anything to go by.

Deloitte’s 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey indicated that these two cohorts, employees in their 20s and 30s, are disproportionately affected by stress and anxiety. The research showed that half (50%) of millennials and Gen Zs in the UK feel anxious or stressed all, or most, of the time, and 26% of millennials and 22% of Gen Zs in the UK took time off work due to stress and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

There’s still a stigma around mental health

However, 44% of this group gave their employer a different reason for their absence, normally due to a continuing stigma around mental health in the workplace. More than half (58%) of UK millennials have not spoken openly with their employer about their feelings of stress and anxiety.

Because there is still a stigma around discussing mental health at work, employees feel ashamed and therefore unable to ask for help.

Times are changing – don't get left behind

Having grown up in a generation where mental health is openly discussed and properly valued, younger workers rightly expect to work for an employer that will safeguard their wellbeing. Unlike previous generations, they do not see work as merely a financial contract. According to Sir Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at the Manchester Business School, the era of the wage slave is coming to an end.

“Those generations hop from one organisation to another, not because they feel entitled, they do that because they're not prepared to tolerate what their parents tolerated. I don't particularly like it here; it's a bullying culture; it's a long-hours culture; they don't value me; they don't really allow me flexible working… We have a different workforce which has different expectations. Not that they don't want to work hard, they do want to work hard. But they don't want to burn out. They want some balance in their life. They want to be trusted and valued.”

But they want more than that. They want their work to be rewarding. They want work for an employer that shares their values. The Deloitte survey reveals that 35% of UK millennials and 39% of Gen Zs made choices over the types of work they’d do and the organisations they’re willing to work for based on their personal beliefs and ethics in the past two years.

ESG as a competitive advantage

The ethically literate and morally-conscious millennial and Gen Z workers aren’t prepared to sell their souls for a bulging pay packet. According to a survey released by Bupa in January 2022, one in three (31%) Gen Z workers would turn down roles in companies with poor ESG credentials, and over half (54%) would take a pay cut to work for a business that reflects their ethics, on average sacrificing more than a quarter (27%) of their salary.

And 64 per cent say it’s important that employers act on environmental issues, with a lack of action affecting the mental wellbeing of two in five (43%). Overall, 16% of UK millennials and 15% of Gen Zs have boycotted a company because of its views or behaviours.

As Jackie Henry says: “Businesses cannot afford to dismiss the opinions, ambitions and beliefs of millennials and Gen Zs. Leaders must continue to champion sustainability, clearly demonstrating the positive impact they are having on society and the steps they are taking to combat climate change. Ignoring this will not only lose the custom of millennials and Gen Zs, but also the creativity and ingenuity that these generations offer as employees.”

With mental ill-health and stress related absences costing UK businesses £45bn a year, research suggests that engaging employees with sustainability commitments will support their mental health and provide growing value to businesses. This will become more important as Gen Z saturate the workforce and move up the career ladder.

Now more than ever, employees want to work for an organisation that is engaged with both ecological and social issues. Employers with strong environmental and social commitments can also expect a boost to productivity - around half of people of all ages said they would be more engaged with their organisation overall (51%), more satisfied in their jobs (53%) and more productive (47%).

Dr Pablo Vandenabeele, Clinical Director for Mental Health at Bupa said: “ESG commitments really can have an impact on employee mental health, so it’s important that businesses take note. A high salary for work that feels meaningless can only satisfy one for so long, whereas feeling like we're contributing to the greater good and making a difference has a positive effect on our self-esteem. It can even reduce feelings of burnout, something that many people are struggling with after a tough couple of years.”

Sally Pain, Chief Sustainability Officer at Bupa said: “As skills shortages bite across many sectors and businesses face a challenging year ahead, it’s easy to think that social and environmental commitments are optional. Our research shows that they are quickly becoming critical to success. For companies who want to build and nurture future leaders for their business, investing in strong targets that connect with their employees’ personal values is vital.”

Can a workplace wellbeing program help?

Most jobs exist in fields that have nothing, directly, to do with the environment, or with working in the community. But that doesn’t preclude constructive involvement in those areas. Employers can easily introduce workplace schemes that aren’t directly connected to their business’ primary goals, but nonetheless support them.

For example, employers can engage a workplace wellbeing tool like BuddyBoost. BuddyBoost has a range of challenges, each one lasting a month, that encourages workers to look after their mental health and improve their mood. One month, the challenge might be to take some form of exercise every day; another might encourage participants to cook and eat nutritious, healthy, mood-enhancing meals.

But two more BuddyBoost challenges are particularly pertinent here. BuddyBoost Green is dedicated to getting participants to make changes in their lives, small and large, at home and at work, that will benefit the environment. BuddyBoost’s Be Kind Challenge encourages people to do a variety of good deeds throughout the month, to engage with friends, family, colleagues, and the wider community, to spread a little happiness.

By implementing programmes such as these, an employer isn’t just firing up the endorphins and boosting the mood of its workforce. It’s also showing that it is actively committed to environmental and social causes: To doing good, in a way that resonates with the concerns and priorities of millennial and Gen Z employees. This in turn will ensure greater loyalty and greater productivity from those workers.

As Jackie Henry concludes: “Even at a time of significant personal stress, millennials and Gen Zs continue to prioritise initiatives that will make a positive impact on their communities and wider society. Businesses that share their vision and support them in their efforts to create a better future will come out on top.”


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