Young People Aren’t Good at Shaking Off Work Stress

They’re also more likely to call in sick or skip work when they’re anxious

Photograph: Getty Images

Take a look around your office. The most anxious employees in the room probably aren’t the graying bosses—they’re likely to be the millennials, new research shows.

For a report published on April 1, workplace-services firm Bensinger, DuPont & Associates found that about 30 percent of millennials—people born between 1978 and 1999—had workplace anxiety, more than any other age group. Among Generation X employees (born between 1965 and 1977), 26 percent reported anxiety. Around the same share of baby boomers (1946-1964) had anxiety on the job—25 percent.

To find out how stressed people were, BDA reviewed phone screenings it had done with 7,883 workers who used the company’s employee assistance program, from January 2013 to June 2014.

The numbers reaffirm previous studies that have found high rates of anxiety among millennials. One possible explanation is that anxiety tapers off with age, says Marie Apke, chief operating officer of Bensinger, Dupont & Associates. There could be something more to what this particular group of people is going through, however. Millennials emerged into adulthood with record amounts of student debt while facing relatively high unemployment rates. “They’re at the beginning of their careers, which is stressful, and they were born in a difficult time,” Apke says. “Their worldview and perspective is different.”

Anxious workers were most likely to report having troubles staying present at work, followed by skipping work, maintaining relationships with co-workers, and getting disciplined.
Anxious workers were most likely to report having troubles staying present at work, followed by skipping work, maintaining relationships with co-workers, and getting disciplined.
Bensinger, Dupont & Associates

Another piece of data in the study might help explain why young adults seem more worried than their older peers. While most workers—60 percent—told BDA that anxiety limited their ability to be focused and present at work, millennials were especially likely to skip a day when they started feeling anxious: Twenty-one percent said they had trouble with absenteeism when they were anxious. By comparison, 17 percent of Gen X workers and 18 percent of boomer employees played hooky when stressed.

In other words, millennials may not feel anxiety more acutely than other generations—it could just be, the firm said, that they’re “more inclined to call in sick or take a day off when feeling anxious.”

The takeaway for bosses: recognizing that their millennial employees may respond to anxiety differently than their older co-workers, and that a few of their sick days could very well be considered mental health days.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE