Is the workplace industry ready to make mental health a priority? It should be if we expect a happy and healthy workforce.
I still remember the day when I applied for a job as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in Acadsoc, an online education platform for over 40 million Chinese students. While it was not really on my bucket list, I grabbed the opportunity to experience what it was like to be in the corporate world while still pursuing my bachelor’s degree. Mind you, this was during the COVID-19 surge when everyone was stuck in their room.
My shift typically runs from 5 PM to 11 PM — the schedule my boss picked for me. The first two months were bearable considering my students were kids. Eventually, I quit after my boss wanted me to work until 5 AM from Monday to Sunday. That’s equivalent to 84 hours of sitting in front of a desk, entertaining and educating my students with only a five-minute break between an hour of classes.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved my students. It was just the workplace is toxic and I don’t want to sacrifice my health by getting burned out.
Perhaps, for baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) working longer is commendable. But not for the Gen Zs. In a survey conducted by the health maintenance organization PhilCare this August, the results show that Generation Z members (those born between 1997 and 2012) have a “strong sense of self” that prioritizes mental and emotional well-being in the workplace. Another research conducted by McKinsey & Company, Inc. shows that Gen Zs consider work-life balance crucial when considering job opportunities.
“I think in the last decade or so, this perspective has gained traction…They have subscribed to it, and it’s already in the psyche of society, whereas for our generation, there was no such conversation,” said Fernando Paragas, who led the PhilCare survey, in an INQUIRER interview. While generational differences in the workplace exist, it is important to consider that what one generation is used to doing, does not need to be adapted by another generation — especially when the practice is mentally and emotionally taxing.
A study by APA in 2022 found that employees with high levels of stress are more likely to show lower commitment at work, which can negatively affect an organization’s bottom line. The World Health Organization (WHO) also found that in a global setting, an estimated 12 billion working days are lost every year to depression and anxiety for US$ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity.
Considering also the study by Deloitte that reveals that 70% of Filipino Gen Zs are experiencing burnout due to workload demands, it is high time for organizational leaders to influence a positive culture shift in the workplace. Instead of glorifying longer working hours, we should be promoting a work-life balance by offering flexible work schedules and hybrid working. Additionally, offering useful benefits to employees such as gym memberships and free mental and yoga classes could spark a difference in the workforce. Taking small breaks — such as a walk in the park — during grind can keep employees more productive and creative, too, according to a University of Illinois study.
The danger lies not only in overlooking the work-life balance mindset but also in neglecting our mental and emotional needs. When employees are heard and feel supported, that is the time they can perform at their best and demonstrate increased loyalty to the organization. In a hustle culture that equates money and position to success, Gen Zs can turn the tables and be eye-openers for companies. By Rahndal Rico