The 3 Things Young Professionals Want Most in the WorkplaceReading Time: 7 minutes
What do we really want from our jobs, besides a paycheck? That’s a question that millions of people are reconsidering right now—especially young adults. More than 4 million people in the United States quit their jobs in April 2021 alone, according to the Department of Labor, and over 50 percent of 18- to 25 year-olds in the workforce are considering quitting.
This collective reassessment is fueled in part by the desire for a more balanced life and better mental health in the workplace. After the intense anxiety and stress of the pandemic—which negatively impacted young adults more than any other generation—returning to the pressure and overwhelm of a challenging job, particularly if it’s unfulfilling, just doesn’t seem worth it.
It’s true that unemployment and living at home with parents can be debilitating for young adults’ mental health. But if the alternative is a job that leaves them feeling depressed and burnt out, this generation of young professionals is less willing to make that trade-off.
The Remote Office vs. IRL
Over the past 16 months, working remotely has left many 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 have missed out on the social culture of the workplace, the spontaneous conversations that inspire new ideas, and consistent opportunities to learn from more experienced colleagues. While mentor programs for young adults can be incredibly beneficial, the mentoring that occurs informally and by example can be equally valuable.
Hence, it’s no surprise that young adults are more excited about going back to in-person work than their older counterparts, even though that means taking off their sweatpants and dealing with the social anxiety of re-entry. A study conducted by PwC found that one-third of workers ages 18 to 24 would prefer one day or less of remote work per week, as compared with one-fifth of all respondents across all age groups.
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.
The 2021 Work Trend Index analyzed survey results from more than 30,000 people in 31 countries, as well as data garnered from Microsoft 365 and LinkedIn. In comparing digital activity in February 2020 to February 2021, the report found the following:
- Time spent in Microsoft Teams meetings has increased by 2.5 times
- The average meeting is 10 minutes longer, up to 45 minutes
- On average, Teams users are sending 45 percent more chats per week and 42 percent more chats after work hours
- The number of emails delivered to commercial and education customers went up by 40.6 billion
- There was a 66 percent increase in the number of people working on documents.
Furthermore, Gen Z survey respondents were more likely than older employees to report symptoms of burnout in the workplace, including having difficulty balancing life and work, feeling exhausted after a typical day of work, and not feeling engaged or excited about work. They also found it challenging to get a word in during meetings, and had fewer chances to bring new ideas to the table.
Along with feeling stymied in the workplace, young professionals are also stressed out. A Deloitte survey measured stress in young adults and found that 40 percent of them feel stressed all the time at work. And about the same number reported that their employers had done a poor job of supporting their mental health in the workplace during the pandemic.
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
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.
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: A 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.
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.