With unemployment at 50-year lows, and competition for employees increasing, businesses continue to struggle to attract top talent. Moving forward, however, businesses face perhaps a more significant challenge, one that is hindering the ability to keep talent, especially among young workers. 

That issue? Burnout.

According to a Mind Share Partners, SAP, and Qualtrics study, which surveyed 1,500 full-time employees ages 16 and older, burnout is happening at an alarming rate. The survey showed that 75 percent of Generation Z employees and half of Millennials employees have left jobs due to mental health reasons.  

Moreover, Jean Twenge, PhD, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, published research with the American Psychological Association, which went further to point out the extent of the issue.

  • The rate of individuals reporting symptoms consistent with major depression in the last 12 months increased 52 percent in adolescents from 2005 to 2017 (from 8.7 percent to 13.2 percent) and increased 63 percent in young adults age 18 to 25 from 2009 to 2017 (from 8.1 percent to 13.2 percent). 

  • There was also a 71 percent increase in young adults experiencing serious psychological distress in the previous 30 days from 2008 to 2017 (from 7.7 percent to 13.1 percent). 

  • The rate of young adults with suicidal thoughts or other suicide-related outcomes increased 47 percent from 2008 to 2017 (from 7.0 percent to 10.3 percent).

Speaking to CNBC, Professor Twenge, who is also the author of iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and What That Means for the Rest of Us, believes the reason for these mental health issues is due to the fact that younger adults are sacrificing and replacing sleep and important face-to-face interactions with screen time.

Twenge notes that the trend correlates with when the majority of Americans owned a smartphone, sometime around 2012. This is also when the mental health issues started becoming a problem.

Boston College research professor, Peter Gray, believes the issue goes back a half-century. Also according to CNBC, Gray explained that the anxiety experienced by today's youth stems from a gradual erosion in our schools and parenting, as society has slowly eroded our children's internal locus of control, or the belief that individuals have control over the events and outcomes of their lives, both good and bad. 

Regardless of the cause, managers need to address this issue, especially considering the significant cost to replace employees, which can be as much as 20 percent of an employee's yearly salary.

How do entrepreneurs handle this? It starts with company culture.

First, companies need to accept that this is an issue, one that does not appear to be solving itself. Therefore, managers need to adopt policies that recognize that mental health is a priority and establish a means for employees to report it. 

This all starts by being established and communicated by leadership and implemented by managers, and it includes taking an active role in supporting mental health through support and training. 

Companies also need to encourage employees to speak openly about the issue. According to a report at the Harvard Business Review, "60 percent of employees have never spoken to anyone at work about their mental health status," and companies are not doing much about it, even though over 200 million workdays -- $16.8 billion in productivity -- are lost due to mental health conditions each year.

Throughout my career, I have been a "tough love" advocate, and someone who scrapped through my young years piecing together a modest career. I have always leaned toward a "suck-it-up" attitude, believing that to achieve and progress, you had to "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" during difficult times. 

The fact is, however, my attitude is not suited for today's -- or tomorrow's -- workforce. The cultural influences of generations past are just different, and whether we want to accept it or not, younger generations are entering the workforce, one shared by all of us, with different experiences and expectations.

Moreover, I will honestly and openly admit that there were times in my career that challenged me personally and professionally so much that, to some degree or another, I experienced varying levels of depression. I never sought help because of the stigma around it, and I wonder how my career -- and certainly my hairline -- would be different if I had. 

Seeing others admit to similar challenges and talking about it openly helps tremendously, which is why leadership should lead in this regard. And if you are still self conscious about admitting this issue personally, remember that if Dwayne Johnson can speak honestly about his mental health, I think we all can.

Published on: Oct 13, 2019
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