There’s a mental health crisis looming that will stretch beyond the next few months.
As organisations shape transition strategies to ease employees back into the workplace, are leaders considering the reality that this ‘transition phase’ could stretch into years?
Gen Z: The Voice of a Neglected Generation
by Lily Brough, Intern at Truthsayers® and studying A Levels in Psychology, Politics, Art and Global Perspectives. Lily has a passion for mental health and social issues and is a keen writer.
Writing as a seventeen-year-old, who has just completed a year of online learning and assessments, I can empathise with the anxiety felt by the UK’s future working population. As the world slowly returns to a new normal, my concern is that Generation Z is at risk of being left behind.
The Government’s Labour Market report (July 2021) shows that 70% of employee job losses between March 2020 and May 2021 were among under 25s. By January 2021, one in five 18-24 year olds had lost their jobs, mainly because this age group are most likely to be employed in “shutdown sectors” than older generations, earning the lowest wages and being the least protected by employment rights due to flexible contracts: 36% of 18-24 year olds on a zero-hours, agency or temporary contracts were no longer working in January 2021. Many young people who are part of Generation Z (those born between 1997 and 2012), like me, are still in education with their future in the job market looking increasingly uncertain.
Young people …have been hit by a multitude of factors that will potentially have long lasting effects on their employment prospects. It’s not just about being in work though. It is the nature, quality and long-term prospects of that work – good, fair work, that’s so important for people’s health.
Dr Ciarán Humphreys, Consultant in Public Health, Wider Determinants of Health Unit, Public Health Wales
The impact of Covid-19 on Generation Z is likely to result in long-term damage to our educational, social, emotional and psychological development. I feel a re-evaluation of priorities is needed by organisations to make sure we do not become the lost generation.
It Can’t Be Business As Usual
Loneliness and social isolation have profoundly affected Gen-Z during lockdowns. We’ve missed out on social opportunities that are important for development and maintaining wellbeing. COVID-19’s resulting disruption to social activities has caused a 15% increase in the risk of depression in Gen Z. The stress of being confined at home, particularly for those in overcrowded or unsafe homes, could have long-lasting adverse effects on mental health and brain development. One in five children from a low-income household and 40% of children from BAME households have spent lockdown in an overcrowded home with no garden. These conditions, which are disproportionately affecting the younger generation, can undoubtedly cause stress and anxiety. As we come out of this period of isolation, new challenges emerge as everyone tries to re-adjust to the social world. Gen-Z will need extra support returning to school, moving on to university and entering the workplace for the first time and I believe companies and institutions need to be prioritising long-term support systems such as access to counsellors, instead of providing one-off gestures like retreats.
Accommodate For The Education Deficit
The mass disruption to education, so crucial for both learning and socialising, has particularly affected children from disadvantaged and vulnerable backgrounds, who rely on school for meals or to escape from an oppressive home life. Access to online schooling has been uneven across the country with as many as 1.7 million children not having access to the technology needed, according to Ofcom. The government fell short both on providing children with the ability to attend school remotely and wider support for at-risk children. My peers and I have felt that the government has abandoned education and do not believe our views are being represented or considered. This ‘disconnect’ we feel from the leaders of the country only intensifies the uncertainty we feel for the future. Students leaving university feel underprepared and anxious, especially as the job market becomes increasingly competitive and the cost of living looks set to rise. Having two school years disrupted has caused big gaps in development, and considerations for this deficit need to be made by employers.
Zoom and Doom-Scrolling
Modern technology provided a platform during COVID-19 that allowed life to continue as a new normal and kept businesses functioning but working at home was far from ideal for many. A high proportion of Gen-Z flat share, meaning cramped working environments and strained Wi-Fi connections. In addition, many could not afford the necessary equipment for working at home, compared to people from older generations who may have a home office. The world had been slowly shifting to digital, but COVID-19 catalysed this; online shopping is more popular than ever before, contactless is on the way to completely replace cash, people can even access healthcare online now. This new virtual life has advantages, but the increased use of social media may be partly responsible for the decline in mental health among Gen-Z. ‘Doom-scrolling’ describes the act of endlessly scrolling on social media viewing negative or upsetting content. It is easy to become trapped in the world of bad news, detrimental to mental health. 51% of 18-24 year olds had mental health problems in April 2020 – an increase from 30% pre-pandemic.
As we reflect on what we want a post-COVID world to look like, the technological advances will not reverse; we need to keep moving forward and embrace the potential that technology offers us, but we also need to have a greater awareness of the dangers it can present to those who are vulnerable. One of the factors that attracted me to do an internship at Truthsayers® is how they are using technology combined with neuroscience and psychology to provide a powerful analytical tool to help organisations truly understand how their employees feel so that the right and most effective support can be put in place.
Three Things We Need From You
We, the Generation Z, want different things from the generations that have gone before us. I believe these are the three keys that employers need post Covid-19:
The pandemic has shifted the world’s attention to the importance of health, particularly mental health. My peers want to feel supported at work and have their mental and physical health needs met. After the pandemic, wellbeing will only increase in importance in finding employees and retaining them. Companies that invest in effective, long-term, mental healthcare systems will be significantly more attractive to my generation.
Equality goes hand in hand with this. During Covid-19, Gen-Z has strengthened its voice and unified around a central goal of equality. Not only did Black Lives Matter contribute to this sense of purpose, but so did the exposure of poverty across the world. The Free Schools Meal campaign led by Marcus Rashford brought attention to the concerning levels of inequality in the UK. Following this experience, Gen-Z will likely not compromise on their morals of equality in the workplace. Covid-19 has allowed the time and space to develop an entrenched set of morals, particularly among Gen-Z.
The imposing threats of climate change and the importance of working as a community to take action have been magnified by Covid-19. Before the pandemic, Gen-Z was already vocal about Climate Action and will continue to be so post-COVID, vocalising with increased vigour. Sustainability should be at the forefront of business priorities. Gen-Z has a firm centre around accountability, including that of the corporate world.
Steps For Lasting Change
Generation Z faces an uncertain future: gaps in education, loss of jobs, financial insecurity, mental instability and environmental disasters. Gen-Z will value security as well as flexibility and will want to see some reassurance that employers understand these needs. Establishing a strong sense of community and collective responsibility will go hand in hand with ensuring Gen-Z and all other generations can nurture positive mental health. By taking the time to align values, ethics and healthcare now, organisations will be equipped to support, attract and retain Generation Z in the future.
I’m an intern at Truthsayers. I have a keen interest in writing, most recently discussing the implications of the modern world on our mental health. As part of my Global Perspectives coursework, I have also explored the impact of social media on democracy, globally, including political polarisation and participation.