Millennials and Gen Z are talking about wellness online. We should listen.


Mar 14, 2023

Beyond connecting people across any distance, social media provides a platform for people to share thoughts, opinions, and commentary on a number of topics. One such topic continually gaining a lot of traction is mental health and wellness. Over the past couple of years, a number of Millennial and Gen Z employees, particularly on TikTok, began discussing how to reclaim their personal health and wellness, particularly in the face of increased stress and pressure from employer expectations. 

While TikTok videos can serve as entertainment, if we look deeper, they tell a different story. And it’s one that business leaders should be listening to. Instead of looking at these videos as pure entertainment, we should look at them as a symptom of a broader mental health conversation. And in doing so, we should ask, “What can employers and health plans do about it?”. 

Workplace burnout, quiet quitting, and Jobs to be Done

Let’s take, for example, the trend of “quiet quitting” to see how this plays out. Quiet quitting is where employees put in the minimum amount of effort required to get their daily tasks done.

If we look at quiet quitting through the lens of Jobs Theory, we see an interesting phenomenon. On the surface it may seem that younger employees are turning to “quiet quitting” because they are displeased with working. However, that might not be the whole story. We should look at this trend as part of a broader problem: younger workers are increasingly feeling burnt out, and are “hiring” quiet quitting to address their mental health needs. Effectively, they are using quiet quitting to reduce workplace anxiety and stress that leads to burnout, and to regain a semblance of control in their lives. 

While burnout isn’t a medical diagnosis, it creates lasting physical and emotional effects. Ignored and unaddressed burnout can lead to conditions such as insomnia, substance abuse, heart disease, and high blood pressure. 

Burnout is not a new phenomenon, but the fact that so many younger employees are feeling increasingly burnt out at an early stage in their career is not promising for the state of their mental health, or for employers’ bottom lines. However, employers can take actions to provide better mental support for their employees, and simultaneously tackle the negative business outcomes that result from poor employee mental health. 

Employers can end quiet quitting by supporting employee mental health 

Health is closely tied to employment; almost half the country gets health insurance through an employer. We also spend about ⅓ of our lives at work, and how we spend this time impacts our health. Considering the impact employers have on employees’ lives, and the impact employee health has on employers’ bottom lines, wise employers make workplace decisions that improve employee mental health and wellbeing. Because if quiet quitting is showing us anything, it’s that mental health is a priority to younger generations, and therefore, it needs to be one for executive leaders.

Below are three key actions employers can, and should, take to support employee mental health.

1. Offer mental health coverage

Post-COVID, employees are experiencing worse mental health than ever before, which leads to increased burnout. According to a new study by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, 40% of employees would leave their job for one offering better mental health benefits. But by offering mental health benefits, employers show they value their employees’ mental wellbeing and are providing them with resources to improve it.

The good news is many companies are starting to roll out mental health benefits plans; 88% of employers have enhanced their mental health offerings in the past year. 

2. Introduce more flexible working policies

While increasing self care is a common answer for how to solve burnout, it’s not the most effective. Self care is really about finding a better work-life balance. Offering a more flexible workplace, such as shorter work weeks or work from home policies, gives employees the opportunity to improve that work-life balance and take care of their personal lives, their mental health, and their professional lives.

3. Understand what is, and is not, a priority

It’s easy for everything in the working world to seem like a crisis. But what actually constitutes a crisis? What really needs to happen is a shift in perspective as to what constitutes crucial, emergency work, and what can either be eliminated, streamlined, or re-delegated. When employers identify what work tasks are actually priorities versus things that can be deferred or eliminated, employees have less on their plate—and thus a job with less stress. 

Recently there has been a lot of transition in the workplace, and work-life balance is a main driver for why people decide to make a career switch. Despite the trend to adopt quiet quitting to maintain that balance and prevent burnout, it does not address burnout’s root causes. 

The solution to quiet quitting is providing more appealing answers to employees’ mental health concerns. Employers have the power to adapt the workplace to remove the need for quiet quitting by instead tackling the root causes of burnout and supporting their employees’ mental health and wellbeing. The question is, will they? Those who do will have a competitive advantage.

Jessica is a research associate at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, where she focuses on business model innovation in health care, including new approaches to population health management and person-centered care delivery.