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Gen Z Mental Health During Quarantine

Today's post is contributed by Dennis Miller, AVP of Human Resources and Benefits Administration at The Claremont Colleges. Here he reflects on how the pandemic is affecting Gen Z mental health in particular.

The other day, I found myself on a Zoom call with five co-workers and realized that only one of them (aside from me) was old enough to have been working during the Great Recession in 2008. We were discussing some of the steps our organization might take to help mitigate the effects of the current COVID-19 Pandemic on our business and it occurred to me that while many of these steps were familiar to me because of having worked through various crises in the past, they were completely new and somewhat hard to fathom for my younger co-workers. 

The impact on the workforce due to the COVID-19 Pandemic is both huge and complex. We've never seen unemployment numbers soar as quickly as this before and even for those of us lucky enough to still be working, we are doing so in a manner and under conditions that would have seemed impossible two months ago. 

As leaders and managers, it is essential to pay special attention to the emotional and mental health impact this crisis has created with your employees, at all levels of the organization, and remember that no one is immune to the impact of this crisis. I would suggest that employers give extra thought to younger employees such as young millennials and Gen Zers who have not experienced a national or world crisis - pandemic or otherwise - as these folks do not have the benefit of knowing, at least on some level, what to expect. 

According to the recent “Meet Gen Z survey”, 34% of Gen Zers communicated anxiety as an emotional barrier they must overcome to achieve workplace success, along with lack of motivation/drive (20%), and low self-esteem (17%). Anxiety, specifically, is a greater concern among female Gen Zers (39% vs. 29% for male) and most prevalent in Canada (44%), the U.K. (40%), and the U.S. (40%). 

This group, especially, may not fully understand that we will get through this crisis, even though no one can say for sure when, or how. Here are some thoughts on how to be most helpful to these employees during this unprecedented time: 

  1. Communicate as openly as possible 

People prefer to know what to expect. Be clear with your employees about what is known, and what is not known. Although frequent communication is always important between managers and employees, this fact is exponentially more important during this, or any crisis. 

  1. Be caring and compassionate 

Today, no one knows what the future holds for them, or their loved ones, related to COVID-19. As a result of the unknown, a high degree of anxiety and stress will occur for many, and sometimes even depression will appear. Employers and managers must be extra caring and compassionate during this highly unusual and stressful time and be deeply in tune with emotions of their employees. Check in with your employees at least once a day via Zoom, Skype, Face Time, or whatever technology you prefer, to get a little actual “face time” with your employees and ask them how they are doing dealing with this crisis. 

  1. Don't hesitate to provide more help 

Finally, leaders must be laser-focused on getting employees professional-level mental health during these unusual times and should not resist getting this type of help for themselves or their loved ones. Isolation can be a major concern for employees working remotely, and the feeling of isolation related to remote work can be expected to compound existing levels of anxiety and stress due to the pandemic. As an employer you want to help employees however you can and providing access to professional help is critically important.  

Here are three things I know today related to this crisis:  1. Pandemics were first confirmed in the 600 AD to 1500 AD period although evidence exists to support they go back to at least 2000 BC. 2. We will get through this crisis, although it will not surprise me if things get worse before we see improvement.  3. This will not be the last crisis we face, or overcome, pandemic or otherwise.   

Leaders at all levels of an organization must always lead and take care of their people.  Today, the leadership mission is focusing on the emotional and mental welfare of your people more than anything else.  

What are you doing to ensure the welfare of your people? Check out this podcast on managing uncertainty for more tips on helping your employees through this crisis.

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