I was born into Generation-Z, otherwise known as the most anxious generation history has seen so far.
I was diagnosed with anxiety in 2014. A large part of my upbringing passed down to me was the mind-set to ‘grit your teeth and bear it’ … which is what I thought I had been doing. Honestly – this news was mortifying. It felt like I had failed.
The reason why I’m writing about this today is because I stumbled across an article from The Wall Street Journal, titled ‘The Most Anxious Generation goes to Work’. I’m in my early 20s, and beginning to dip my toe into the workforce.
“Nevertheless, their anxiety is causing some baffling workplace behaviours—such as ghosting the boss.”
I can empathise with both sides of this, one thing I have learned through personal experience is that anxiety is entirely devoid of logic, it doesn’t make sense internally or externally, which is one of the most frustrating parts about it. It feels impossible to explain your erratic behaviour, especially when you’re aware of how it could come across.
When my mental health has been particularly bad I have lied to employers about why I can’t go in to work. This mentality stems from the fear of being perceived as ‘slacking off’ in some way, because your illness is not a visible one there is no ‘proof’. I’ve also never felt comfortable disclosing my mental health in the time where I’m trying to make a good first impression in a new working environment, in fear that I could be perceived as someone who needs to be tip-toed around. But then… later down the line if I disclose this, it could be interpreted as ‘awfully convenient’ that I now have a disability.
I got my first ‘proper’ job in 2013, and then I was diagnosed the following year. The first time I told a manager that I was having difficulties with my mental health wasn’t until 2018. It certainly felt like a big secret that I didn’t want to admit, I couldn’t bear the thought of people feeling sorry for me and I certainly had internalised shame about it. Of course, it didn’t help when I would see news coining the term the ‘snowflake generation’ – a generation too emotionally vulnerable and delicate to be taken seriously. How could the higher-ups possibly understand where I was coming from? I’ve never wanted to be read as someone that’s slacking off, so I’ve forced myself to push through many situations that I shouldn’t have and it tends to have long-term negative effects, both for me and the working environment.
The original article that inspired this did give me hope, in that when leaders show empathy and understanding it can really alleviate a worker’s anxiety. A huge part of my experience came down to having managers that would refuse understanding and administer distance from their worker’s, managers that wouldn’t trust you, and managers that would frequently resort to anger for simple human mistakes.
I’m glad that this is receiving attention, and empathetic leaders are taking action for ways to help and support this anxious generation coming into the workforce. If any managers are reading this, I think it is important to exercise patience and compassion. I think this generation just works a bit differently and it needs some getting used to.
Be slower to judge, and quicker to forgive.