Columbia Psychology Professor Advocates That Gen Z Workers Should Normalize Stress and Anxiety

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In a rapidly evolving workplace landscape, discussions surrounding mental health have gained significant traction, particularly among younger generations. Kathleen Pike, a psychology professor at Columbia University and president and CEO of One Mind at Work, asserts that Gen Z workers should embrace stress and anxiety as normal aspects of life rather than signs of mental illness.

Pike’s perspective comes amidst growing concerns about the mental well-being of Gen Z employees, who seem to be grappling with stress and anxiety at work at higher rates than previous generations. However, she emphasizes the importance of distinguishing between normal emotional experiences and indicators of mental health disorders.

According to Pike, the increased openness among Gen Z regarding mental health represents a “watershed moment” in workplace culture, paving the way for meaningful change in addressing mental health issues.

While acknowledging the significance of discussing mental illness, Pike warns against losing sight of the normal fluctuations in human emotions.

“Feeling stressed out when facing deadlines or experiencing sadness, disappointment, or anxiety are part of normal life experiences,” Pike asserts. She emphasizes that these emotions serve functional purposes, such as enhancing cognitive focus and alerting individuals to potential threats in their environment.

However, she clarifies that experiencing such emotions does not necessarily signify the presence of a serious mental illness.

Gen Z Workers Need More Balanced Understanding

Despite the prevalence of stress and anxiety among Gen Z workers, Pike believes that over time, individuals will learn to navigate these feelings more effectively. She underscores the importance of ongoing discussions surrounding mental health while acknowledging that societal changes often involve periods of overcorrection before reaching a more balanced understanding.

A Deloitte survey conducted in 2023 supports Pike’s observations, revealing that a significant portion of Gen Zers report feeling anxious and stressed out at work on a regular basis. Moreover, many express feelings of exhaustion, lack of energy, and disengagement from their jobs due to negativity or cynicism.

In response to these challenges, some Gen Zers are exploring alternative career paths, such as “lazy girl jobs,” which offer lower stress levels but still provide competitive compensation. Suzy Welch, an NYU business professor, attributes this trend to Gen Z’s aversion to anxiety and reluctance to confront difficult decisions or tasks.

Pike acknowledges the validity of these coping mechanisms but emphasizes the importance of building resilience and coping skills in the face of adversity. She believes that navigating challenging emotions and experiences is essential for personal growth and maturation in the workplace.

As discussions surrounding mental health and well-being continue to evolve, Pike remains optimistic about the potential for Gen Z workers to develop healthier coping mechanisms and adapt to the demands of the modern workplace.

She emphasizes the importance of seeking support, building resilience, and embracing a wider range of emotional experiences as integral components of professional development and personal growth.


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