Mental health tips from an online psychologist about workplace issues.

Mental Health Challenges Faced by Millennials in the Workplace

Millennials – individuals born between 1981 and 1996 – currently occupy a significant portion of the workforce in Australia. They are currently 35% of the workforce, and are projected to make up as much as 70% by 2030. 

Reference: https://www.hcamag.com/au/

As they navigate the challenges of an ever-changing world, evolving job market, the pressures of professional growth, and the balance between work and personal life, their mental health emerges as a critical factor influencing their overall well-being and productivity.

Highlighting the Prevalence of Mental Health Challenges

Millennials in the workplace increasingly acknowledge the prevalence of mental health challenges. Modern professional life’s pressures, along with societal expectations and personal aspirations, contribute to the rise in anxiety, depression, and burnout cases. This trend highlights the urgent need for concerted efforts to tackle these issues.

For context: 

  • 71% of millennials report that work stress negatively impacts their mental health.
  • More than 60% of millennials have experienced burnout at work.
  • 49% of millennials report feeling “paralyzed” by the stress they experience
  • 62% of Australian millennials experience workplace stress that affects their mental well-being.

These numbers show how concerning the mental health state of Australian Millennial Workers. 

Reference: https://gitnux.org/

What are the Specific Mental Health Challenges Australian Millennials Experience? 

Burnout

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.

What are the factors contributing to burnout?

Work-life imbalance, where the lines between professional and personal life blur, leaving little time for relaxation or self-care.

The pressure to succeed, with Millennials often finding themselves in highly competitive environments that demand constant high performance.

Lack of autonomy in roles, contributes to feelings of being trapped or unable to influence their work environment.

What are the signs and symptoms of burnout in the workplace?

Diminished Interest in Work. Once engaging tasks now evoke feelings of apathy, leading to a disconnection from one’s responsibilities and a lack of motivation to perform at previous levels.

Persistent Fatigue. This type of fatigue remains unrelieved by rest, significantly affecting an individual’s ability to concentrate and maintain enthusiasm for their work, resulting in decreased productivity and energy.

Irritability with Colleagues and Clients. Increased frustration and shortness with those around you, negatively impacting teamwork, communication, and overall workplace harmony.

A Sense of Ineffectiveness. Doubting the value and impact of your contributions, leads to a diminished sense of accomplishment and questioning the purpose of your work.

Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety and depression in the workplace encompass persistent feelings of worry, sadness, and a lack of interest in daily activities. These conditions can significantly impair a person’s ability to function professionally and personally.

What are the factors contributing to anxiety and depression?

Financial stress, due to the increasing costs of living, creates a backdrop of constant worry.

Job insecurity, with the uncertainty of contract work, the gig economy, and heightened fears about the future.

The impact of social media, where constant comparison with others’ curated lives can undermine self-esteem and contribute to feelings of inadequacy.

What are the signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression in the workplace?

Challenges with Concentration and Decision-Making. Difficulty focusing on tasks and making decisions, which hinders the completion of work and affects professional judgement. This can result in missed deadlines and errors in work.

Withdrawal from Colleagues and Workplace Activities. Pulling away from social interactions and engagements at work, affects teamwork and interpersonal relationships. This withdrawal can lead to isolation and a further decline in job satisfaction.

Increased Absenteeism or Presenteeism: Taking more days off work or showing up but being disengaged, leading to a decline in productivity and engagement. This behaviour reflects an inability to cope with the demands of the job effectively.

Decreased Creativity and Problem-Solving Skills: Anxiety and depression can sap creative energy, making it difficult to come up with new ideas or solve problems effectively. Employees may find themselves stuck, unable to think outside the box as they once could.

Neglecting Personal Care and Responsibilities: As anxiety and depression consume an individual’s mental and emotional resources, they may start neglecting personal care and responsibilities.

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome is characterised by an internal belief that one is not as competent as others perceive, accompanied by a fear of being exposed as a fraud, despite evidence of success.

What are the factors contributing to imposter syndrome?

Perfectionism. High achievers often set excessively ambitious goals for themselves. When they fail to meet these lofty standards, it feeds into feelings of inadequacy and impostorism, regardless of their successes or competencies.

External Expectations. The pressure from family, society, or cultural norms to succeed can exacerbate feelings of being an impostor. Millennials, in particular, face a world of rapidly changing expectations and are often compared to highly visible successes in their peer group, intensifying these pressures.

Educational or Professional Environments. Highly competitive environments, whether in academic settings or workplaces, can foster Imposter Syndrome. Constant comparison with peers and the pressure to outperform can make success feel unearned and heighten fears of being exposed as a fraud.

New Challenges or Roles. Transitioning to a new role or taking on new challenges can trigger Imposter Syndrome. The fear of not living up to expectations in unfamiliar situations can make individuals question their qualifications and abilities.

Lack of Representation. For some, particularly those from underrepresented groups in their field, the lack of visible role models who share their background or identity can contribute to feelings of not belonging and doubting their place or achievements.

Personal Upbringing. Individuals raised in environments where achievement was overly emphasised, or where they were labelled as the “smart one” or “successful one,” may feel an ongoing pressure to maintain this image, fearing any mistake might reveal their “true incompetence.”

What are the signs and symptoms of imposter syndrome in the workplace?

Persistent Self-Doubt. A constant questioning of one’s skills and achievements that undermines confidence and self-esteem. Individuals may feel like they’re not as competent as others perceive them to be, despite a history of accomplishments.

Stress and Anxiety. The fear of being “discovered” as a “fraud” can lead to significant stress and anxiety. This fear often results in over-preparing for tasks or procrastinating, as individuals worry their work will not stand up to scrutiny.

Avoidance of New Opportunities. Due to a fear of failure or exposure as a “fraud”, individuals may shy away from seeking new opportunities or advancements. This avoidance can limit professional growth and reinforce feelings of inadequacy.

Overworking. In an attempt to cover up perceived inadequacies, individuals may work longer hours than necessary, sacrificing personal time and well-being to ensure their work is beyond reproach.

Difficulty Accepting Praise. Individuals may struggle to accept praise or recognition for their achievements, attributing success to luck or external factors rather than their own effort and abilities. This scepticism towards positive feedback further entrenches the belief that they are an imposter.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse in the workplace refers to the excessive use of substances, including cigarettes, vaping, alcohol and drugs, which can adversely affect an individual’s health, productivity, and social interactions.

What are the factors contributing to substance abuse?

Coping Mechanism for Stress, Anxiety, or Depression. Many individuals turn to substances as a way to find relief from the pressures of the workplace. Whether it’s to alleviate stress, manage anxiety, or combat depression, substance use becomes a means to temporarily escape these challenging emotions.

Social Culture or Environment. The influence of a social culture or work environment that normalises or even encourages the use of substances can significantly contribute to increased consumption. When substance use is viewed as an acceptable way to socialise or unwind, it can lead to habitual use or dependency.

Personal or Professional Dissatisfaction. For some, substance use begins as an escape from feelings of unhappiness or unfulfillment in their personal lives or careers. When individuals feel stuck or dissatisfied with their current situation, substances may be used in an attempt to find temporary solace or detachment.

What are the signs and symptoms of substance abuse in the workplace?

Decreased Productivity and Increased Errors. Substance abuse can significantly impair cognitive functions and professional judgement, leading to a noticeable drop in productivity and an increase in errors or mistakes in work tasks.

Changes in Behavior or Mood. Individuals may exhibit noticeable changes in behaviour or mood, ranging from unexplained irritability to sudden bouts of aggression, which can lead to conflicts with colleagues and management.

Increased Absenteeism. Health issues related to substance abuse often result in taking more time off work, either to cope with the effects of the substance use or to recover from related illnesses.

Unreliable Attendance. Erratic patterns of attendance, such as frequent tardiness or leaving work early without explanation, can be a sign of struggles with substance abuse.

Social Withdrawal. A tendency to withdraw from workplace social interactions and activities, which might indicate an attempt to hide substance use or its effects from colleagues.

Physical Signs of Substance Use. Observable physical signs may include bloodshot eyes, unexplained injuries or accidents, or a noticeable decline in personal appearance and hygiene.

Contributing Factors to Mental Health Challenges in the Workplace

Workplace Culture

The culture within organisations can significantly influence Millennials’ mental health. Toxic environments characterised by high stress, excessive competition, and lack of support contribute to the deterioration of employee well-being. 

Millennials, who often value collaboration and feedback, may find themselves at odds with traditional hierarchical structures that do not foster open communication or acknowledge individual contributions. Moreover, the phenomenon of presenteeism, where employees feel pressured to work long hours or attend while sick, exacerbates mental health challenges, leaving little room for recovery or personal time.

Generational differences in communication styles and expectations can also create friction. Millennials’ preference for digital communication and feedback may clash with older generations’ norms, leading to misunderstandings and feelings of isolation or underappreciation.

Economic Factors

Economic pressures play a critical role in shaping Millennials’ mental health in the workplace. Many Australian Millennials entered the workforce during or after the global financial crisis, facing job insecurity, stagnant wages, and the challenges of an increasingly competitive job market. The burden of student loan debt, coupled with rising living costs, places significant financial stress on Millennials. This economic instability can lead to persistent anxiety and burnout, as the pressure to achieve financial security becomes overwhelming.

Social Media and Technology

The pervasive influence of social media and technology offers a double-edged sword. While providing platforms for connection and self-expression, social media also fosters a culture of comparison, where Millennials might measure their success against the curated highlights of their peers. This constant comparison can erode self-esteem and contribute to feelings of inadequacy and depression.

The demand for constant connectivity, with emails and work messages intruding into personal time, further blurs the boundaries between work and life. This “always-on” culture can prevent Millennials from disconnecting and recharging, contributing to chronic stress and anxiety.

The exploration of mental health challenges in the workplace reveals a pressing concern, particularly among millennial workers. Issues like burnout, anxiety, and Imposter Syndrome not only affect individual well-being but also impact organisational health, highlighting the urgent need for proactive mental health strategies.

Recognising these challenges is the first step towards fostering a healthier work environment. As we move forward, the next part of our series will focus on practical ways to improve mental health in workspaces. By embracing supportive practices and creating a culture of wellness, organisations can enhance job satisfaction, performance, and overall workplace positivity.

Join us as we continue to uncover how to build a more supportive and mentally healthy workplace, ensuring a brighter future for employees and businesses alike.