New Research Shows Significant Mental Health Issues Among Young Professionals
“Burnout” is pervasive as Gen Z workers seek more mental health support from their employers
BOSTON- College graduates in their early careers report significant mental health issues and view their jobs as a contributing factor, according to findings from a new survey released today by the Mary Christie Institute (MCI), a thought leadership organization dedicated to the emotional and behavioral health of young adults, in partnership with the Healthy Minds Network (HMN), the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), and the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). The survey, which included over 1,000 working adults between the ages of 22 – 28 with at least a bachelor’s degree, was conducted by Morning Consult and was funded by a gift from the KellWell Foundation with support from Boston Scientific.
According to the survey, a majority (51%) of young professionals report having needed help for emotional or mental health problems in the past year. Nearly half (45%) believe their work environment has taken a negative toll on their own mental health. More than half (53%) are experiencing burnout at least once a week, defined as physical and emotional exhaustion related to one’s work. Women and those with financial stress reported worse mental health overall.
“This is more evidence that mental health problems, particularly stress and anxiety, are extending beyond college and into the workplace,” said Sarah Ketchen Lipson, PhD, EdM, of the Boston University School of Public Health and the Healthy Minds Network, who advised on the survey. “We know that meeting the mental health needs of young people in college benefits not only students, but also institutions. In much the same way, supporting the mental health of young professionals is likely to benefit employee productivity and retention, thus influencing the success of entire organizations.”
A strong majority (58%) of young professionals believe their employers should invest more in mental health support. Almost half (43%) say they would reach out to their supervisors if they had a problem they believed to be affecting their job performance, and an overwhelming majority (91%) of those who had spoken to someone at work said the response was supportive. Black respondents reported better overall mental health than their white peers (60% vs 52% say they have good or excellent mental health); However, they are less likely to feel part of the work community than white respondents (50% vs 65%) and less likely to say they have colleagues who would support them if struggling (52% vs 72%).
“These findings should encourage leaders in higher education and the workforce to see each other as partners in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of young professionals. The social and emotional resources they gain as students become essential strengths when starting their careers,” said Lynn Pasquerella, President of the American Association of Colleges and Universities, a partner on the survey.
The survey also asked respondents if they believed their college prepared them with the emotional or behavioral skills needed for the workplace, in an effort to help colleges examine their role in the emotional preparedness of young workers. Thirty-nine percent say it did; 39% also said it did not, raising questions about how proactive colleges are in including emotional and mental health in their career development or in their pedagogy.
“One of our study’s key findings is that nearly 40% of respondents felt unprepared emotionally for the workplace,” said Shawn VanDerziel, Executive Director of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which also partnered in the project. “This is an opportunity for colleges to consider what experiences—such as internships—can help students build emotional intelligence around work and the workplace. For employers, the finding is a signal to ramp up support for all their employees and especially for new entry-level hires.”
Among the findings:
- More than half of young professionals report emotional or mental health challenges, and these challenges vary by gender and race.
- More than half (51%) of young professionals surveyed report having needed help for emotional or mental health problems in the past year. Forty-three percent screened positive for anxiety; 31% for depression. Women report worse mental health than men, with 68% of males self-reporting good or excellent mental health, compared to 45% of females.
- Black and Asian American respondents reported better overall mental health than their white peers (60% and 63%, respectively, say they have good or excellent mental health, compared to 52% of white and 49% of Hispanic respondents). However, Black respondents are less likely to feel part of the work community than their white peers (50% vs 68%); and are less likely to say they have colleagues who would support them if struggling compared to their white counterparts (52% vs 73%).
- Burnout is a problem among young professionals, and it plays a role in their anticipated job tenure.
- More than half of young professionals (53%) reported that they feel burnout at least once per week. (Burnout was defined as “a state of prolonged physical and psychological exhaustion, which is perceived as related to the person’s work.”)
- Of the young professionals who reported experiencing burnout weekly or more, 42% plan to leave their job in the next 12 months, compared to 32% of young professionals overall who say they plan to leave their job within the year.
- Young professionals see their work environment as a negative contributor to their overall mental wellbeing.
- More than a third (38%) of young professionals said that the environment at their workplace negatively impacts employee mental health and wellbeing.
- Nearly half (45%) of young professionals believe their work environment has taken a negative toll on their own mental health in the previous year.
- More financial stress is associated with worse metal wellbeing.
- Nearly half (46%) of young professionals described their financial situation as always or often stressful.
- Among those with more financial stress, 61% rated their own mental health as fair or poor compared to 31% of those with lower financial stress.
- More than half (56%) of young professionals with higher financial stress said that work had taken a toll on their mental health in the previous year, compared to 37% of those with lower financial stress.
- College is not strongly perceived as preparing students emotionally for the workforce.
- More than one third (39%) of respondents said their college did not help them develop skills to prepare them for the emotional or behavioral impact of the transition to the workplace.
- Of those who believed their college did provide support (also 39%), majorities named peer relationships (57%) and extracurriculars (51%) as influential experiences.
- Many young professionals believe their workplaces prioritize mental health, but strong majorities are looking for more support.
- Nearly half (46%) of young professionals believe mental health is a priority at their workplace. A quarter say it is not. Less than half (41%) say there are adequate resources to support employee mental health. Overall, 58% agree that their workplace should invest more in mental health resources; with nearly two-thirds (64%) of women agreeing with that statement.
- Interest in mental health resources is high among young professionals, particularly if offered for free.
- Those who reach out about their mental health feel near universal support from their colleagues.
- Nearly a third (29%) reported having reached out to someone at work about a mental health problem they felt was affecting their job performance/productivity.
- Of those who had spoken to someone at their workplace, 91% said the response from the person to whom they reached out was either very or somewhat supportive.
- Supervisors seen as a primary confidant for mental health issues, though outreach not perceived as strong.
- Almost half (43%) of young professionals reported they would reach out to their supervisor if they had a mental health problem that they believed was affecting their job performance/productivity.
- Those who said their supervisor has reached out to them about their mental health often were much more likely to say their mental health was good or excellent.
- A majority (65%) reported that their supervisor has either never (36%) or rarely (29%) reached out to them about their mental wellbeing.
Full directory of graphs can be found in appendix slides here.
About the Mary Christie Institute
The Mary Christie Institute (MCI) is a national thought leadership organization dedicate to improving the emotional and behavioral health of teens and young aduults with a particular focus on college students. We help young people thrive by examining the issues of teen and young adult health and wellbeing and bringing them to the attention of decisionmakers on campuses and communities throughout the country.
About the Healthy Minds Network
The Healthy Minds Network (HMN) is dedicated to research on understanding and addressing population-level mental health, particularly in post-secondary schools (colleges and universities). HMN takes a public health approach to examine mental health in student, faculty, and staff populations. The starting point is large-scale data collection, most notably through the annual Healthy Minds Study, which has been administered at hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide. HMN is led by researchers at Boston University, UCLA, University of Michigan, and Wayne State University.
The American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) is a global membership organization dedicated to advancing the democratic purposes of higher education by promoting equity, innovation, and excellence in liberal education. Through our programs and events, publications and research, public advocacy, and campus-based projects, AAC&U serves as a catalyst and facilitator for innovations that improve educational quality and equity and that support the success of all students. In addition to accredited public and private, two-year, and four-year colleges and universities and state higher education systems and agencies throughout the United States, our membership includes degree-granting higher education institutions in more than twenty-five countries, as well as other organizations and individuals. To learn more, visit www.aacu.org.
About the National Association of Colleges and Employers
Established in 1956, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) is the only professional association in the United States that connects nearly 11,000 college career services professionals, more than 3,600 university relations and recruiting professionals, and more than 400 business solution providers that serve this community.
NACE is the premier source of market research on career readiness and employment of recent college graduates. NACE forecasts hiring and trends in the job market; tracks salaries, recruiting and hiring practices, and student attitudes and outcomes; and identifies best practices and benchmarks.
NACE offers its members unparalleled research, networking and professional development opportunities, guidance on standards and ethics, and advocacy on key issues. For more information, visit www.naceweb.org. NACE maintains a virtual press room for the media.