The future lies in the youth. We’ve heard this line repeatedly that while it serves as an inspiration for Generation Z, it’s also probably adding to the mounting pressure they’re carrying.
Gen Zers currently account for 30% of the world’s population. In Asia, the cohort born between 1997 and 2012 is expected to make up a quarter of the population by 2025. With the oldest Gen Zers already entering the workforce, they’ve already started to impact workplace dynamics.
However, a recent study by global insurer AXA has revealed that over half of Gen Zers worldwide (54%) and in Asia (51%) are experiencing poor mental health post-pandemic. This is concerning, as this generation will play a crucial role in driving innovation and digitalization in the workplace.
If the “future of work” are already feeling burnt out today, what lies ahead then?
Under immense stress
Based on the 2023 Study of Mind Health and Well-being by AXA, the younger generation (aged 11-26) is the age group that struggles the most with mental health issues, such as emotional stress and psychosocial impairment, with a global percentage of 18% and 14% in Asia, surpassing all other age groups. The survey, conducted late last year, involved 30,000 respondents across 16 countries and territories.
Various factors pose potential risks to the mental well-being of Gen Z, such as the feeling of uncertainty about the future (69% in Asia vs. 59% globally), lack of job-skill fit (56% vs. 64%), difficulty in creating work-life balance (49% vs. 39% globally), and the pressure of keeping up with the pace of change at work (47% vs. 38% globally).
The study highlighted that having the right job-skill fit correlates very strongly with mental well-being, as those equipped with the right job skills are 2.5 times more likely to perform their best at work.
Only 13% of Gen Z globally say they are flourishing at the pinnacle of mental health, with the proportion being 15% in Asia, both the lowest across all age groups. This makes 18-24 the only age group globally with more people struggling than flourishing.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected people of all ages, but it has had a particularly profound impact on Gen Zers, who were entering their young adult years. This demographic has been faced with a unique set of challenges and uncertainties that have hindered their personal and professional growth.
As young individuals still in the process of discovering their identities and learning how to be self-sufficient, they were abruptly forced to adapt to a rapidly changing world. The pandemic disrupted their education, job prospects, and social lives, leaving them overwhelmed and uncertain about the future. While many older individuals had already established careers and personal lives, Gen Zers were just starting out, making it difficult for them to maintain a sense of security on their own.
“These findings emphasize that the next generation of talents across Asia are facing severe challenges,” said Gordon Watson, CEO of AXA Asia.
As they navigate the significant changes in their lives and at work, Gen Zers show a high percentage of resigning from their jobs (21%) in the next 12 months — a worrying indicator for employers across industries.
Despite this, Gen Zers in Asia were considerably working well under stress, with 43% believing they could be relied upon to do their best compared to other age groups.
In need of support
The current struggles of the young generation highlight the significance of having workplace support. To retain these talents, companies in Asia have begun implementing measures to promote positive mental health.
Employees who work at companies that provide mental health support are more productive and 3.5 times more likely to flourish than those without access to support. More than a quarter of respondents also said there’s a “likelihood of flourishing” at work if their skills match the work they are being asked to do.
American psychotherapist Allison Heiliczer suggested that normalizing feelings of exhaustion, stress, and failures will help Gen Zers be more connected to their workplaces or careers. She emphasized the importance of seeking guidance from a coach or mentor and maintaining flexibility in the face of changes.
The decreasing stigma surrounding mental health is also a positive factor, with 36% of respondents acknowledging that the world has become more accepting of previously taboo discussions.
“The decline in stigma around mental health issues does factor into this improving sense of well-being as it means fewer people are suffering in silence,” explained Allison. “[This] helps people feel less alone, less ashamed, more likely to seek support, and more likely to connect with others and their work.