Gen Z is more likely to call in sick to work than Gen Xers 20 years their senior thanks to a mental health crisis ‘turbocharged’ by young women


The transition from college to the workforce has long been a universally challenging experience, characterized by adjusting to new routines, dissatisfying jobs, and a diminished social life. Recent research suggests that this struggle is now increasingly influenced by generational and gender-based factors.

In the UK, there has been a notable increase in the number of young people reporting mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety. Surprisingly, these individuals are now more likely to take sick leave compared to individuals 20 years their senior, signaling a significant reversal in historical well-being trends.

This mounting mental health crisis is significantly affecting the career prospects of Generation Z employees, as revealed by research from the Resolution Foundation (RF). More than a third of young adults aged 18 to 24 are affected by common mental disorders, a sharp increase from the 24% figure in 2000. Notably, women are experiencing a particularly pronounced mental health crisis, with 40% more likely to report mental health difficulties compared to 25% of men.

While the causes of this surge are subject to debate, the real-world impacts of heightened levels of mental health challenges are undeniable. The RF's analysis has shown that the number of young people taking time off work due to ill health has doubled in the past decade. Furthermore, individuals with mental health difficulties are more likely to be employed in low-paid jobs compared to their healthier counterparts.

This seismic generational shift is causing division in the workplace and adversely impacting productivity. Communication breakdowns between young employees and their older managers have been cited as a key factor contributing to decreased productivity. The consequences are also being felt in the UK economy, with mental health-related absenteeism estimated to cost £138 billion per year.

Notably, universities have been identified as incubators for mental health challenges, with approximately three out of five students grappling with mental health disorders. Despite this, a college education remains a key pathway to higher-paying careers, posing a dilemma for young people seeking to balance their mental well-being with career prospects.

The RF's research has also highlighted the clear correlation between female Gen Z individuals and mental health challenges, with young women now 1.6 times more likely than men to take time off work due to ill health. This marks a significant deviation from the trend observed in the 2010s, primarily due to a substantial increase in female illness in recent years.

As teenagers approach college age, the prevalence of mental health disorders becomes more pronounced. Nearly a third of females aged 17–19 are reported to have probable mental disorders, emphasizing the urgency of addressing mental health needs in this demographic.

The RF has advised sectors with a substantial number of young employees to spearhead initiatives aimed at hiring more "mental-health aware" managers to enhance the well-being of tomorrow's leaders.  

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