The last two years have been incredibly stressful, by anyone’s standards. Anxiety and depression are up worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. And maybe not surprisingly, nine in 10 (91%) Gen Z candidates say it’s important for them to be comfortable discussing mental wellness at work, according to Monster’s latest Gen Z Survey.
It’s also worth noting that 47% of employees say they’re more stressed since the pandemic and need to make changes with their life, according to Randstad’s Workmonitor survey. Thirty-four percent of candidates want a job with manageable stress levels, and 40% of Gen Z candidates would rather be unemployed than unhappy in a job.
“We might say that the impact on our mental health is the second act of the pandemic, and that’s not going away anytime soon,” says Laura Putnam, CEO and founder of well-being consulting firm Motion Infusion, and author of Workplace Wellness that Works. “In fact, there’s often a delayed effect.”
With that in mind, it’s more important than ever for companies to make employee mental health a priority. Here’s how employers can make sure they’re offering what candidates and employees need:
Research has found that when people move, not only do they get healthier, they get happier. Movement can prevent and even treat anxiety.
“When we move, it is as effective as Zoloft for treating depression,” Putnam says. “But another study found that movement actually primes us to connect with others. So there’s a lot of power in very simple rituals, like converting a Zoom meeting to a walking meeting.”
Organize a lunchtime walking club, or create annual or recurring step challenges. Urge employees to take the stairs. “When individuals move physically and exercise, their bodies produce endorphins,” says Awstin Gregg, a therapist and CEO at Connections Wellness Group, a Texas company offering psychiatry, counseling and therapy. “These are the body’s ‘feel good’ chemicals, which help to directly offset the consequences that stress can have on the body.”
Help employees make connections
When people feel connected at work, everyone benefits. Studies show that there’s a link between having a best friend at work, for example, and an employee’s level of effort and engagement.
The same goes for teams. “On a team where there’s a high level of trust, they are 12 times more likely to be a high performing, highly engaged team,” Putnam says. “So I often encourage organizations to think beyond programs and challenges, and to think more about how they can implement rituals, particularly team by team, led by the manager, that start to embed well-being as a way of life.”
“A large Harvard study found that as we move up in an organization, while our responsibility levels go up, our stress levels actually go down,” Putnam says. “The reason: We have a greater perceived sense of control over how we spend our time.”
In other words, flexibility is a key mental health support. This meshes with Monster’s finding that job candidates — 34% of college graduates and 28% of non-college grads — say that flexible schedule options are the job perk they’re most interested in.
“If we want to meaningfully help employees better manage their stress, one of the most powerful ways is to provide more opportunities for flexibility in how the work gets done,” Putnam says.
For leaders advocating for wellness in the workplace, actions speak volumes. Celebrate when people use their PTO, for instance, instead of implying that it’s preferable for employees to show up every day. Laud C-suite employees who are taking vacations and sabbaticals, and follow up with employees who aren’t using their time off.
Another method: Incentivize healthy behaviors and create employee programs designed to praise healthy habits. “For an organization to turn the corner with follow-through, it will require some intentionally altered perspectives on the ‘way things have always been,’” Gregg says. “The truth is that mental health challenges are becoming more common than the common cold.”
Hold up a mirror
If employees are suffering from stress and burnout, an employer may need to take a hard look at their organization to determine the root cause. Is it the employee? Or is it the workplace itself?
“If we look at something like healthcare, one of the biggest drivers of burnout is patient overload,” Putnam says. “And a lot of these healthcare organizations, seeking to maximize their profits, have increased the patient load even before COVID hit. So this naturally creates a scenario in which, just because of workload, no matter how much yoga or mindfulness these individuals may be practicing, they’re going to be burned out.”
Encourage basic self-care
On the heels of pandemic stress, a large majority (83%) of workers are worried that the situation in Ukraine will impact the U.S. economy, according to Monster’s data. This kind of worry and anxiety can be overwhelming.
One thing employers can do is acknowledge that these are stressful times. And then urge workers to take care of themselves in general. “Eat, move, sleep,” Putnam says. “I love the quote that ‘The bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.’ We cannot overestimate the importance of the basics right now.”
While there are existential threats to fear, Putnam says, people can control their reactions to them: “While we may have little or not control over the circumstances in our lives, we have infinite power as to how we respond to those circumstances.”
Be ready to talk about mental health and more at work
The new generation of workers are saying loud and clear that they want to be able to talk about mental health and wellness at work, but they also want more salary transparency, a more flexible workplace and career stability. Learn what else they’re looking for in Monster’s latest Gen Z Report.