2 in 5 Gen Zers say mental health at ‘breaking point’

Experts detail why work is the number one stressor for workers, what employers can do

2 in 5 Gen Zers say mental health at ‘breaking point’

Employers need to provide better mental health supports to their workers – especially the young ones, judging by the results of a recent study. As many as 40% of workers between the ages of 18 and 24 say they’re at a mental health “breaking point,” according to a recent report from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

And by the time they reach age 40, half will have experienced some form of mental illness.

Work is “the number one source of stress for Canadians,” say Genevieve Bonin, managing director and partner; Janice Horne, managing director and partner; Keith Halliday, director for BCG’s Centre for Canada’s Future; and Charlotte MacDonald, principal at BCG.

Over 25% of Canadians report that work is the main source of stress for them, and 35% report being burned out.

The four factors contributing to lower mental health and wellbeing in the workplace are:

  1. Health and wellbeing are seen as secondary to financial performance
  2. Managers don’t know how to talk about mental health or if they even should
  3. Little awareness that mental health and fitness is a business skill
  4. Inadequate support systems

Overall, 44% of respondents said they sought mental health and wellbeing support in 2022. However, 80% of those surveyed said they had trouble accessing mental health resources, and 50% were disappointed with the quality of the support they received.

While 94% of employers say they’re available to help staff who are struggling with mental health concerns, just 12% of employees have confided in their bosses, according to a previous Peninsula survey. And one in seven of those who did speak to their boss say nothing was done.

“While most organizations care greatly about the health and wellbeing of their employees, many have been slow to recognize the extent of the crisis,” said Bonin. “A lack of strategy, a lack of support and stigma in discussing mental health have created workplace cultures where young people and their managers feel discouraged from presenting these issues.”

Nearly all (95%) of people with a mental health or substance use disorder indicated that they have been impacted by stigma in the past five years, according to a previous report from the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Mental health crisis

In 2022, 50% of young professionals reported needing help for an emotional or mental problem. 

About 20% of new entrants into the workforce report that transitioning into the workforce had a negative effect on their mental wellbeing, found BCG’s report based on a survey of more than 1,300 young Canadian workers and more than 30 interviews with employees, managers, leaders and field experts, conducted in late 2022.

Mental health suffers as workers struggle financially, according to a previous report from TELUS Health.

And the mental health crisis seems to be getting worse. Overall, 20% of Canadians experience some form of mental health challenge each year, and the number of Canadians who say they are struggling with mental health has risen by more than 13% annually since 2016.

Black and Indigenous Canadians also face particular stressors: 55% of Black workers say they do not feel safe from workplace discrimination and 40% of Indigenous employees said they have been victims of bias as a result of their identity.

What should employers do?

Here are some steps employers can take to better support workers’ mental health, according to the BCG experts:

  1. Make mental health and wellbeing a strategic business priority.
  2. Develop generative leadership – a humanistic approach that yields highly motivated teams and creates a culture of psychological safety.
  3. Build employee resilience.
  4. Provide access to structured support.

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