Young Adult Mental Health & Substance Abuse Treatment Centers

Well-Being in the Workplace: What Young Professionals Really Want Out of Work

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What do we really want from our jobs, besides a paycheck? That’s a question that millions of people have been reconsidering over the past two years—especially young professionals.

As awareness and discussion of mental health grows, fewer young adults are willing to sacrifice their well-being for the sake of their job. And there’s no doubt that work is stressful. According to Deloitte’s 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey, 46 percent of young adults say they feel burned out due to the intensity and demands of their working environment.

Young Adults and ‘The Great Resignation’

Close to 48 million employees quit their jobs in 2021, a trend that’s become known as “The Great Resignation” or “The Great Reshuffle.” Among young professionals (ages 18–29), 37 percent quit their jobs last year—more than double the rate of older adults (ages 30–49). And the quitting isn’t quitting: As of March 2022, 44 percent of employees were looking for a new job or planned to do so soon, according to Willis Towers Watson’s 2022 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey.

This collective reassessment is fueled in part by the desire for a more balanced life and better mental health in the workplace. The intense anxiety and stress of the pandemic negatively impacted young adults more than any other generation. The pressure and overwhelm of a challenging job, particularly if it’s unfulfilling, just doesn’t seem worth it.

The Remote Office vs. IRL

Working at home is leaving young professionals feeling isolated and disconnected. Networking and bonding are far more difficult in structured Zoom conversations as opposed to casual meetings in the hallway, at lunch, or in open-plan offices. Young adults are missing out on the social culture of the workplace, the spontaneous conversations that inspire new ideas, and consistent opportunities to learn from more experienced colleagues.

Yet some research shows that flexibility is just as important to this demographic. A Citrix survey of today’s young professionals found that 90 percent of young adults prefer a hybrid model, with some days at home and some in the workplace. Furthermore, the survey found that:

  • 17 percent of young adults believe that they should be given the opportunity to work a four-day week if they choose
  • 27 percent expect to be able to decide when to begin and end their working day
  • 7 percent want to work unstructured or output-based hours.

Clearly, young adults are striving for autonomy and independence to support their mental health in the workplace.

Gen Z Burnout in the Workplace

Even though some young professionals have only been employed for a few years, they are already burning out. That’s because their workloads are steadily increasing, while their engagement is going down. This generation of young professionals is more stressed out than any other age group, according to a 2022 report by Bain & Company. Their biggest work-related worries are financial issues, job security, and failing to meet their career goals, the report found.

Furthermore, Gen Z is more likely than older employees to report having difficulty balancing life and work, feeling exhausted after a typical day of work, and not feeling engaged or excited about work. They also find it challenging to get a word in during meetings, and have fewer chances to bring new ideas to the table.

The Difficult Transition from College to Career




“Everything’s a struggle.” 

Those are some of the ways in which recent college graduates described their experience transitioning from school to the workplace, in a study conducted by Brandeis University professor Andy Molinsky and former visiting scholar Sheila Pisman. Their research pinpointed some of the biggest challenges of this life stage:

  • Lack of clear feedback: College students receive ongoing feedback on their performance, in the form of grades and professor’s comments. Once they get to work, where feedback and performance reviews are frequently inconsistent and unclear, they’re often left with no clear idea of whether or not they’re doing a good job, or how they can improve.
  • Navigating non-optional relationships: At school, students choose the peers they want to hang out with and the professors whose classes they want to take. In the workplace, young adults have to find ways to get along with people they don’t like or wouldn’t choose to spend time with if they didn’t have to.
  • A new level of accountability: When a college student makes a mistake or misses a deadline, they might pay for it with a poor grade and increased academic pressure, but no one else is directly impacted. Messing up at work, though, could have serious consequences for a young professional’s entire team and even the organization as a whole.

Despite being advised to hit the ground running, many young people we spoke with felt disoriented, confused, dissatisfied, and in many cases overwhelmed with the ‘real world.

Andy Molinsky and Sheila Pisman
Brandeis researchers

Imposter Syndrome in Young Professionals

Another aspect of work life that increases stress in young adults is so-called imposter syndrome. Also known as “perceived fraudulence,” imposter syndrome refers to feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy, and unworthiness. People with this syndrome tend to attribute their successes to luck rather than competence, and are constantly afraid of being somehow unmasked as not deserving of their role or responsibilities.  

While it is more common among women and minority groups, imposter syndrome is widespread: Research shows that as many as 82 percent of people report having felt like an impostor at some point. Some studies have found that this syndrome is more prevalent among younger people, as well as perfectionists and high-achieving individuals.

Over time, the self-judgment associated with imposter syndrome can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, as well as burnout in the workplace.

Know the Facts

75% of young adults (ages 18–22) have left a job because of mental health reasons, according to the nonprofit MindShare Partners.

3 Top Priorities for Today’s Young Professionals

In the face of these challenges, what are young adults looking for in their careers, and how are they hoping to improve their mental health in the workplace? Here are three of the most important things that young professionals are looking for at work.

A sense of meaning and purpose: Coming of age during one of the most turbulent periods in recent history has left many young adults focused less on ambition and materialism and more on what really matters. More than any other generation, Gen Z is the most likely to believe they can make a difference by doing meaningful work (32 percent vs. 17 percent of all ages). Among factors to consider in choosing a job, young adults rank meaningful roles and responsibilities above promotion opportunities and convenient location. Despite worldwide issues like the economic fallout of the pandemic, racism, and climate change, young professionals remain optimistic: 82 percent of them feel hopeful about finding meaningful work and addressing global challenges by the year 2030.

Authentic connection: For some young professionals, the challenges of the past year have opened a door to more authentic expression and connection in the workplace. Because so many people were struggling with mental health in the workplace and at home, it was more acceptable to talk about personal stressors. As a result, 39 percent of people say they’re more likely to be their full, authentic selves at work and 31 percent are feel less embarrassed or ashamed when their non-work life shows up at work, according to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index. Young adults want to keep this authentic connection going: In a survey by Rainmaker Thinking, positive relationships and supportive leadership were the top two qualities young professionals looked for in a job, and the human element was more important than any other factor, including compensation and benefits.

Opportunities to grow and learn: study of 6,900 Gen Z respondents by the Springtide Research Institute found that 86 percent of young professionals believe bosses and supervisors should offer them opportunities to grow, whether through a mentor program for young adults or other avenues. Professional growth is so important to this age group that one-third of them would be willing to accept smaller pay increases if they had the opportunity to learn different skills and to choose what they’re learning. When choosing a job, young adults rank “the chance to learn real skills” above extra pay and even above autonomy and creative freedom.

Everything is changing so much, and so fast, that the youngest, least experienced people bring to the table a unique wisdom that comes from being in sync with the immediate and intermediate future.

Rainmaker Thinking
2021 report

Struggling with Your Mental Health in the Workplace?

Are you or someone you love experiencing imposter syndrome, lack of connection, and/or burnout in the workplace? Find out about the benefits your employer offers, such as mental health days, health insurance coverage for local therapy, an Employee Assistance program that provides remote counseling, and reimbursement for self-care like a gym membership or personal trainer.

In addition, it’s important to recognize when workplace stress progresses into a mental health issue, like anxiety, depression, substance abuse, or PTSD. At Newport Institute, we guide young adults to strengthen self-worth, executive functioning, and life skills, so they can find thriving at work and in relationships. Call us anytime to find out about our clinical model of care, our specialized treatment approach for young adults, and our locations around the country.

Mental Health / April 24, 2022

Newport Institute

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