Mental Health A Bigger Challenge Than Climate Change As COVID-19 Takes Its Toll On Young People

Young people view mental health as a bigger generational challenge than climate change as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic takes its toll on younger generations, according to new data. 

The Purpose Pulse found nearly three quarters (70%) of Millennials and Gen Z think mental health is a challenge, second only to COVID-19 (76%). Economic inequality (66%), climate change (65%), and job security (65%) are also viewed as a concern by solid majorities of young people. Yet, despite the preoccupation with the pandemic and mental health, there are still high expectations for COP26 this year, with nearly three fifths (58%) hopeful it will lead to a positive outcome.

As employees, socially conscious young people are demanding their concerns around mental health and inequality are addressed in the workplace. Nearly two thirds (64%) of Millennials and Gen Z say they consider flexible working important when deciding their employer, amid the pandemic accelerating the move towards remote working. Meanwhile, nearly seven in ten (69%) want employers to encourage them to “bring their whole self to work”.

According to the research, D&I initiatives are viewed favourably among young employees, as two thirds (66%) want to work for an organisation that actively promotes diversity and inclusion. Diversity targets are welcomed by young people, as nearly three fifths (58%) back binding quotas to achieve targets on race and gender. And six in ten (60%) want to see employers make clear commitments such as linking executive pay to positive outcomes on diversity.

As consumers, young people are also set to reward purpose-driven businesses, with a majority (61%) saying a brand having a clear social purpose is important in their purchasing decisions. A good record on workers rights is important for young buyers, with over two thirds (68%) looking to buy from brands that treat their employees well. Just over two fifths (43%) of Millennials and Gen Z in the UK and Germany have boycotted a company over the past 12 months because they don’t agree with their values or behaviour, an increase of 9% from last year.

Despite COVID-19 restrictions, a proportion of both Millennials and Gen Z have exercised the right to protest over the past 12 months. Gen Z have been more involved than Millennials, with nearly two fifths (37%) of 16-24 year olds taking part in a protest compared with just under a third (31%) of Millennials. Dubbed ‘digital natives’, Gen Z are more likely to take part in online activism than Millennials. Nearly three fifths (57%) of Gen Z have signed an online petition over the past 12 months, compared with just under half (48%) of Millennials. The same number (48%) of Millennials have posted about a cause they care about on social media, compared with over half (56%) of Gen Z.

Daniela Flores, Founding Partner of Purpose Union said: “Whilst the negative impact of COVID-19 on younger generations is not surprising, it is clear that the past year has shaped Millennial and Gen Z opinions on how they want to live and work in a post-pandemic world. As they demand greater diversity in the workplace and expect brands to have a clear social purpose, it will set the tone for businesses looking to engage with potential employees and consumers from these demographics.”  

Charline Merieau, Co-founder of Root Cause commented: “The pandemic has pushed many Gen Z and Millennials over the edge in terms of their mental health. It has exacerbated existing trends and increased expectations and demands on companies to intervene.”

Phil Riggins, Founder of the Brand and Reputation Collective said: “As Millennials and Gen Z continue to move into leadership positions in business, government and civil society, we can expect their impatience with the pace of change on issues like climate change and diversity to be translated into direct action. Brands that facilitate this shift will stay relevant and thrive, those that drag their feet won’t. It’s as simple as that. “

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