How Do We Relieve Gen Z’s Workplace Stress?

With many of these young people introduced to the work world remotely, they are missing the benefits of in-person emotional support.

A new Gallup survey, “State of the Global Workplace: 2023 Report,” found that Generation Z is the most anxious of all generations about work-related matters. Some 68 percent of Generation Z, or younger Millennials (born 1989 or after), report feeling stress. That compares to 63 percent of other Millennials, 56 percent of Generation Xers (like me), and 40 percent of Baby Boomers.

Why all the stress? According to Eve Upton-Clark, writing in Business Insider, a key reason is that many of these young people were introduced to the work world remotely.

“The rise of remote work means that instead of settling into professional life by watching how their colleagues behaved in the office, Gen Z has been largely left to their own devices. That lack of on-the-job coaching, combined with layoffs and the effects of inflation, has left many Gen Zers feeling on edge,” Upton-Clark writes.

Communal Goofing-Off Time

I think what’s missing is communal “goofing-off” time. I had colleagues who told me that years ago, they had a mobile putting green they would roll out many afternoons for 15 minutes or so of unwinding. I remember taking walks with colleagues outside one of the offices where I worked to unwind, or simply walking over to a co-worker’s cubicle—or talking over the cubicle wall—about this and that and nothing in particular. Goofing off time indirectly, and perhaps counterintuitively, boosts productivity because it helps burn off stress. That burned-off stress allows an employee to focus more sharply on their work. When you feel tremendous stress, it’s hard to keep your mind on your work.

There are many reasons to support a return to at least part-time in-person work. One of the biggest is that in-person time with colleagues often helps to manage stress.

In addition to goofing off time with colleagues, there is less time spent wondering in-person what someone meant in an e-mail, text, or online chat. You can just immediately say to them, “I don’t think I understand. So, you’re saying that…”

When home alone with continuous messages coming in, it’s hard to get an accurate read on how well you are relating to co-workers. A person who comes across as cold and brusque may just be reverting to their default written communication style. “You can’t tell the tone of how someone says something when you’re working by yourself… You just spiral and think of every possible meaning, when the majority of the time, it probably means nothing at all,” Upton-Clark quotes a Generation Z employee as telling her.

Office Space Is Still Important

Instead of large, expensive office space, it can make more sense to invest in a conveniently located, smaller office, perhaps in a less expensive part of a city, rather than deciding to eliminate office space altogether. With most employees now only wanting (or willing) to come into the office two to three days per week, you don’t need as many workstations. Employees can share workspaces, with different work groups arranging to be in the office on different days or alternating weeks. The in-person time could be invaluable to your younger employees, who still often don’t have a sense of what it means to have colleagues.

Role of Communicators

Ragan, which provides support to communications specialists, offered a response to Gallup’s survey results, noting the important role communicators can play in keeping the stress levels of Generation Z employees under control. Sean Devlin writes on the Ragan site:

“Younger generations are especially attuned to the fact that workplace stresses don’t always just stop when you shut your work computer for the day—communicators need to recognize and act on that within a messaging and content strategy. That can manifest in several ways, including:

  • Creating opportunities for intergenerational connection
  • Allowing younger members of an organization to be heard
  • Allowing for reverse mentoring, in which younger employees share their experiences with older ones
  • Asking members of Gen Z about how their experiences of culture can help tell the organizational story

The more you allow Gen Z employees to tell their stories, the more likely they are to feel like a part of the larger organizational mission.”

Creating a Support System

If the in-person office is too far for many of an organization’s employees to make it there, a system could be established to connect employees to colleagues who live near them. You may have your corporate headquarters in a city center, with remote employees who live two hours or more away. That’s too far for a reasonable weekly commute, but there’s a chance one, or more, fellow employees live much closer. What if you had a way of bringing those employees together? The company could offer to cover the cost of one group lunch per month at an affordable restaurant or deli, for example.

When thinking about stress reduction, the amount of work and human resources devoted to finishing that work is only part of the picture. The other part is in-person emotional support.

Does the stress level of your youngest employees concern you? How do you get employees in the swing of working for your organization when they spend significant time (or all their time) working remotely?