Gen Z workers are exhausted — and seeking solutions
Updated June 16, 2023 at 1:42 PM ET
My generation, Generation Z, is apparently experiencing an early life crisis.
Researchers say younger generations deal with an ongoing wealth inequality. They see senior executives get bonuses and higher wages, while average worker wages remain stagnant. In a 2023 Deloitte survey, nearly half of Gen Zs and four in 10 millennials said they feel stressed all or most of the time.
But money is just one factor. At the age of 24, I have already experienced a global pandemic with uncounted diseases and deaths, summer temperatures in winter months, global Black Lives Matter movements and ever-growing inflation rates. I feel the weight of the world at the tip of my fingers. As I enter the working world, it is difficult to show up as my best self every day.
Only half of Gen Z believes it is managing its stress well, according to the APA. And the way Gen Z manages stress has become a talking point on social media.
A viral TikTok video asserts that this generation is the most difficult generation to work with because of a "lack of motivation, they're easily distracted, easily offended and dishonest."
Tess Brigham, a California-based life coach and therapist, said that Gen Z's early life crisis is characterized by exhaustion and a deep sense of being overwhelmed.
"I think part of what you are all feeling isn't necessarily what I think older generations want to call laziness or being entitled," Brigham said. "I think you're tired. Like truly, truly tired."
A quarter-life crisis, or an early life crisis, is an identity crisis. It happens when someone in their mid-20s to early 30s begins to question the quality and direction of their life. Common traits include sadness, feeling unfulfilled and anxiety.
"Anxiety kind of gets us living in the future and it gets us spinning our wheels and worrying about things that haven't happened yet," Brigham said.
It can be difficult to manage personal anxiety, world events and sustain a living. So, I asked Lynn Toomey, a life coach in Massachusetts, how I can work through exhaustion without dreading the workplace.
"I think it comes down to lifestyle planning from the beginning," Toomey said.
Toomey believes in "leading a balanced life." She is the founder of Her Retirement, a platform that helps retirees work through their greatest life regrets, including overworking. Toomey advises Gen Z to pursue their personal interests and take up hobbies, so they become habits and behaviors.
Although Brigham doesn't believe in work-life balance, she does believe in incorporating personal interests into life and the workplace.
"Work is what we do all day. So you have to figure out what you like to do, your personality, what you enjoy," she said.
Brigham shared with NPR's Morning Edition tips to identify stress causes, manage anxiety and find joy in life and career.
How to understand the source of your stress
Before you audit your job, audit your life.
Take note of the things you like and dislike in-and-outside of the workplace.
Ask yourself questions like: What is the best part of my day? Who do I like to be around? What do I like about my job?
Brigham says these questions help people become detectives in their own lives.
Maybe it's not the job itself but a difficult coworker or lack of involvement in projects you're passionate about.
The problem could also be an outside source like a rocky relationship or a noisy roommate.
Explore your interests
Once you get an idea of what makes you unhappy, Brigham encourages you to explore the things that make you happy.
If you're not assigned the projects you're passionate about, discuss it with your boss.
Brigham encourages young people to advocate for themselves and pursue their desires in all aspects of life, including work and relationships.
"As you're exploring more about yourself, you're better understanding yourself," Brigham said. "What will happen is you'll start to make changes in your daily life."
Three ways to relax and relieve stress
1. Meditation isn't perfect, it's a practice.
The first thing Brigham advises you to do is "slow down" and meditate.
"You're noticing your thoughts and letting them go," Brigham said. "Just because you have a thought doesn't make it true, doesn't mean you have to listen to it."
If you think meditation will not work for you, start with 2 minutes a day.
2. Another method Brigham suggests is journaling.
"Free writing allows you to get all that gunk, all of these thoughts, out of your head and onto paper, then you just release it and let it go," she said.
3. If you're looking for an immediate stress reliever, exercise can help: "It's the best thing that you can do, any kind of physical exercise for 20 to 30 minutes."
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