Throughout history, maturer generations have voiced opinions about the younger generations; from their manners, work ethic, and laziness, to their commitment to their employers. So when organisations claim that younger recruits lack resilience, is this just another iteration of age-old complaints or are there genuine differences in how millennials and Generation Z approach work compared to their predecessors? In a survey of over 12,000 people, we explored the impact of age on well-being and mental health in the workplace. The findings may not be what you expect:

Doubling down 

Workers aged 35 and under were 60% more likely to take days off due to mental health issues compared to those aged 51 and over (31.3% vs. 19.5%). However, 46% of the younger group didn't disclose the reason to their employer, compared to 35% of the older group.  Does this demonstrate a healthy attitude to mental rest and recovery or a weak commitment to work and lack of resilience? 

Bar chart showing time off work due to mental health by generation
Bar chart showing time off work due to mental health by generation

Well-being trends

However, when asked about changes in well-being over the past year, nearly twice as many under-35s reported improvement compared to those over 51. Younger workers also rated their overall well-being and happiness at work slightly higher and reported less stress and loneliness in the workplace.

Work related challenges and other factors impacting mental health:

Younger workers were 18% less likely to report that work-related challenges negatively affected their mental health. This contrasts with media portrayals of workplaces being more stressful for the younger generation. Younger workers were also less likely to attribute mental health struggles with climate change, political polarisation and global instability, contradicting what we commonly hear about in the media. Whilst their voices are loud, be that through climate marches, protests and social media, they were instead most likely to say that the cost of household bills, housing and job insecurity are having the biggest negative impact on their mental health. Organisations looking to attract younger workers often rush to promote their environmental credentials and social impact, but offering a competitive salary should not be dismissed in favour of these values. 

Are employers offering enough support across the generations?

Young people were also more likely to think their employer helps them manage their well-being, again, indicating a positive partnership between young employees and their organisations that fosters healthy and supportive workplaces. Whilst organisations eagerly provide support to younger employees, it's essential not to overlook the fact that those facing challenges may not conform to the media's stereotypical image of struggling workers. Individuals aged 51 and above may encounter age-related bias in the workplace, despite their extensive experience. Throughout their careers, they have navigated significant changes and repeatedly adapted to evolving situations. They may also find themselves saddled with caring responsibilities outside of work, from both their children and elderly parents, adding to feelings of overwhelm and stress. 

bar chart showing how supported different generations feel by their employer
bar chart showing how supported different generations feel by their employer

Regarding interpersonal relationships with colleagues, it is once again employees aged 51 and above who are encountering challenges. They were 45% more likely to report a deterioration in these relationships over the past year, and were less likely to indicate improvement. Less opportunity for informal catch ups, a lack of social events and increased video calls were commonly chosen reasons that have contributed to a decline in relationships.

While employers often focus on organising social events that aid the integration of less experienced recruits, creating social occasions that cater to a diverse workforce across different age groups can enhance relationships and foster productive collaboration. It is important to schedule these events at times and locations that accommodate people with care-giving responsibilities and ensure suitability for all age groups. Hosting events that are not solely activity-focused is essential to promote inclusivity across generations and those with physical disabilities. 

bar graph showing how different generations have changed their relationships with colleagues
bar graph showing how different generations have changed their relationships with colleagues

In conclusion, the question remains: Are younger employees less resilient, leading them to take more time off despite being happier at work? Or are they happier because they prioritise self-care? Each organisation is unique, and we recommend continuously analysing workforce data to identify address mental health challenges and absence reasons specific to different age groups, whilst encouraging employees to allow themselves time for rest and restoration to enhance overall productivity.

Get in touch if you would like more information on how you can support well-being across generations in your organisation. 

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