Generation Z's vitality, while trending upward, lags far behind that of other cohorts, according to a new survey commissioned by The Cigna Group. But HR can play a key role in supporting the mental health of this generation.
The study of 4,000 U.S. adults revealed that 33 percent of young adults rate their own mental health as "excellent" or "good," compared with 48 percent, on average, of all other adults. Generation Z also reported lower personal confidence and self-esteem, dissatisfaction with their personal and professional lives, and lower overall quality of life than all other generations.
"What stood out to me was the extent to which younger people continue to face enormous mental health challenges—particularly Gen Z," said Stuart Lustig, a child psychiatrist and national medical executive at Evernorth Health Services, a division of The Cigna Group. "Gen Z are the loneliest, least resilient demographic alive today."
Among Generation Z respondents:
- 26 percent of women describe their mental health as excellent or very good, compared with 43 percent for their male counterparts.
- 27 percent of women and 40 percent of men describe their confidence and self-esteem as excellent or very good.
- 29 percent of women and 41 percent of men see their body image as excellent or very good.
- White respondents were more likely than their Black counterparts to report struggling with their mental health, body image and confidence.
More than half of Generation Z (55 percent) experienced stress about their finances—a higher percentage than for older generations (42 percent). Most young adults agree that financial or economic concerns are the most important problem facing their generation, citing the high overall cost of living (35 percent) and inflation (25 percent) as the biggest financial problems.
"No other generation feels less connected, less autonomy over their future, more unfocused when it comes to life, and reports worst quality of life and greater hindrance due to their mental health," Lustig said. "This has huge ramifications for other aspects of life, including the workplace."
How Mental Health Struggles Can Cost Companies
The research showed that poor mental health significantly impacts the workplace. Individuals with lower levels of vitality tend to have:
- Higher absenteeism.
- Less confidence at work.
- Lower work performance.
- Higher turnover.
- Less satisfaction with work.
Further, approximately half of Generation Z respondents reported that their poor mental health keeps them from taking care of responsibilities and concentrating on completing important tasks, the study indicated.
"In contrast, people with higher vitality are more present in their jobs, more productive and have a higher confidence and ability to carry [out] their duties," Lustig added.
In some cases, the workplace can deteriorate employee mental health. A 2023 survey by SHRM found that 27 percent of Generation Z workers say their job has made them feel depressed at least once a week in the past six months, causing many of them to look for a new job.
5 Ways HR Can Support Generation Z’s Mental Health Struggles
Samer Saab, founder and CEO of software company Explorance in Montreal, Quebec, said employers should support Generation Z workers in their professional growth, providing real-life examples of career success and the power of ambition. Supporting their careers, he said, can give them a more positive outlook on life.
"We owe them the support to get them to define and fulfill their own sense of purpose," Saab said. "We owe them growth via challenge, hard work and opportunity. We owe them impact."
Lustig offered five tips for HR professionals to support their employees' psychological health:
Raise awareness of mental health benefits. Given how mental health challenges exponentially impact Generation Z's overall vitality, employers should make efforts to ensure that their employees are aware of the mental health benefits their company provides.
Engage managers. Fewer Generation Z workers than older employees reported feeling understood by their manager or that their manager is confident in their abilities, The Cigna Group report found. Companies should offer ongoing resources that guide new and seasoned managers on how to nurture relationships with their direct reports.
Promote professional development. Lustig said Generation Z places a higher priority than older employees do on developing their skills, gaining expertise and earning professional certifications. Consider offering training and skill development programs targeted to Generation Z. For high-performing employees, Lustig explained, consider investing in additional training to develop and retain top-tier talent, drive productivity, and build future leaders.
Enlist volunteers. The Cigna Group research showed that more than half of Generation Z adults want to contribute to their community—and those with higher vitality are significantly more likely to participate in volunteer work, say they have a sense of purpose and connect strongly with their community. By helping these employees find ways to meaningfully contribute to their communities, employers can enhance their sense of purpose and belonging, Lustig noted.
Rally around your purpose. Generation Z is less likely than other generations to feel like their work has meaning, but nearly half of Generation Z employees want to find a job with meaning and purpose. Promoting your company purpose could inspire, recruit and engage harder-to-reach Generation Z workers who look for meaning in their work and expect their company to make a positive societal impact.