Financial Stress and Mental Health – Why Younger Employees Leave

I was reading the recent article by Ashley Stahl, and wanted, specifically, to share these statistics about younger workers, who now make up the majority of the workforce:

A generational shift in awareness of mental health is occurring. Half of millennials (born 1980-2000)  and 75% of Gen Z’ers (born 2000-present), the two generations that make up the overwhelming majority of the workforce, have left roles in the past for mental health reasons. The main culprits for millennial and Gen Z’s stress and anxiety, according to a Deloitte study, included:


  • Welfare for their families (45%)

  • Long-term financial future (43%)

  • Day-to-day finances (39%)

  • Job and career prospects (41%)

I think this is interesting in a couple of different ways. Clearly, workers are putting a much higher value on their own mental health, and companies that don’t get that, and support it, are going to end up having quite a bit of turnover.

But, the other thing that I wanted to think more about was what those specific reasons say about the mental health of Millennial and Gen Z workers. They seem to be dealing with a lot of stress around finances, and having that stress impact their mental health. Is that new? Or is it more likely that Gen X and Boomers have had those same stresses, but didn’t really identify them as mental health issues, like anxiety.

I think there’s something to that. Not to start talking about how things were “back in my day”, but I don’t recall anyone talking about anxiety in the same way we talk about it now. I suspect that many of us had anxiety around finances, we just didn’t call it that, and our solution to that anxiety was, of course, to work harder and longer.

And guess what? The next generations watched us do that, especially the Baby Boomers, and realized that it doesn’t actually work. Our mental health has sucked, for years, and we just didn’t admit it. They are willing to talk about it, and look for work that fits with lessening stress, especially stress that is related to finances.

Now, you would think that if they had more stress around finances, they would also just “work harder and longer”, but that assumes that the relationship between employers and employees is the same as it was 25-30 years ago, and it’s just not. Companies come and go now overnight. They run out to hire when things are growing, and rush to fire when things are not growing. Whole industries barely exist anymore. None of us live in the same work world that we grew up in any more. Think about it:

  • Baby Boomers grew up after WWII. Their parents were likely to have survived the Great Depression and the War, and were very likely to do things like grow their own food, can, etc. They knew from experience that they might have to be self-reliant, and made sure they could be. Boomers, on the other hand, grew up in economic good times, for the most part. You could, if you got a good job, count on doing that job for years and years. (Of course, it was also true that if you couldn’t get one of those jobs for various reasons, you were screwed. You probably lived much more like younger workers do now, more on that later..)
  • Gen X did, however, live and work through some economic downturns. The 80s and 90s saw the collapse of manufacturing and farming. Our solution to that, of course, was to get a better education and not have to rely on manufacturing or farming as careers. (Again, if you were in one of those failing industries, you got left behind again, and probably had a lot more stressful decisions to make about how you worked and lived.)
  • The last two generations to join the workforce, have watched this whole thing turn upside down. There are no solid industries or jobs that will get them through their entire lifetime. We have all watched seemingly solid industries fall apart in a very short time, and we’ve watched companies that are even in industries that are performing well, fall apart because of some bad decisions by company founders and investors. The bottom line is that workers in 2020 have exactly no reason to trust that their employers will be able to provide the sort of stability that leads to less financial anxiety. That’s why so many change jobs. They see the writing on the wall. They’ve watched organizations across all industries move quickly to start cutting the cost of labor. The ingrained lesson that many of us have learned, is to get out before you’re forced out.

Remember the mantra of technology companies – “fail fast”?

Of course, fail fast so that you can adjust and change direction quickly. Of course, that change of direction might involve either cutting people or revamping their work, on the fly. That causes a lot of insecurity, even among the people who keep their jobs, because they know things aren’t going well, and things might not ever go well at that company again. There’s no guarantee the work they do now, will provide for them into the next decade, year, or maybe even month. They’ve seen far too much churn in every single industry to trust that they have job security long-term.

So, they go back to those same lessons learned by the generations that lived through the Great Depression, and the people who didn’t benefit from good economies over the years. They are hustling, taking care of themselves and their families first. Taking control over what they can control. Planning for the worst. instead of sitting at a desk in an office thinking about how they’ll be doing this work for a long time, they are assuming that one day this job won’t exist. And that was before COVID-19, frankly. So I assume this is growing by leaps and bounds this year.

That’s a terribly anxious way to live. And it’s showing.

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