Underpaid in an age of high inflation, Gen Z is burnt out and worried about money

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All work and no play makes Gen Z very dull. Young adults are feeling burnt out by the endless rise and grind of work, and they’re starting to wonder what’s the point of it all. 

A whopping 98% of young adults ages 18 to 24 are experiencing worker burnout, according to Cigna 360’s Global Well-Being Survey 2022. Surveying almost 12,000 employees from 15 countries, Cigna found that younger workers are feeling the strain at work more than their older coworkers: 91% of Gen Zers and 87% of millennials report being stressed. That’s compared to 84% of overall employees. 

“We can’t attribute all our modern stress levels to COVID; there are myriad other factors, from the pressure of being ‘on’ all the time at work to the amount of media we consume, through to the cost-of-living crisis,” Dr. Peter Mills, Cigna’s medical director, wrote in the report. 

Workers overall are reckoning with the “Great Exhaustion,” as the report is aptly named. And younger workers are feeling stressed out for plenty of reasons: a lack of learning and job opportunities, uncertainty about the future, and, most of all, money. 

Financial insecurity fuels Gen Z’s high stress levels. Thirty-nine percent of Gen Zers and 34% of millennials said finances were their leading stressor, compared to 29% of 50- to 64-year-olds. Younger workers are increasingly worried about money and the future, as many junior employees (40%) report they’re concerned about the rising cost of living. And those who were more worried about their finances tended to report greater levels of stress. 

Their stress is understandable. In June, inflation reached a 40-year high and while consumer prices have ebbed a bit since then, many young adults are dealing with high prices while living on their own for the first time. Coupled with recession fears, it’s no wonder young adults are anxious about money. Many are already cutting back spending in preparation for an economic downturn. Saving more and working harder than other generations in anticipation of a recession is likely adding to the pressure on this already stressed-out cohort. 

Younger workers also tend to have less of a financial cushion and stable career position than their older counterparts. 

“Gen Z employees would be most at risk if a recession were to happen,” Jovan Johnson, a certified financial planner and co-owner of Piece of Wealth Planning firm told Fortune’s Megan Leonhardt. “Most employers start layoffs with newer employees.”

The economy isn’t the only thing younger workers are worrying about. Just over 30% of both Gen Z and millennials said uncertainty over the future is stressing them out. Anxiety regarding climate change further causes feelings of disillusion with work for a generation already struggling to pay the bills. It’s not just the future of planet Earth that’s in flux, it’s also their own—many doubt they’ll ever be able to build enough wealth to afford a home. 

Younger employees are also concerned about a lack of career opportunities. It may explain why nearly half of those under age 35 are on the hunt for a new job. 

The deep shifts we’ve seen at work and in the economy since the pandemic began have led many to reevaluate their life priorities: 65% overall, and 71% and 73% of Gen Zers and millennials, respectively, Cigna finds. It’s enough to push them over the edge at work, leaving your junior colleagues more burnt out than you might realize.

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