Gen Z founders are taking a mental-health-first approach to building their businesses — and everyone should take notice
- Many Gen Z founders are creating better workplaces for themselves and their staff.
- They're placing a large emphasis on supporting their employees' mental health and wellness.
As a senior in college, Gigi Robinson was balancing her studies, a chronic illness that dictated her schedule, and efforts to build a personal brand online. She felt that her teachers didn't understand the extent of her personal and professional loads.
"I dealt with teachers not believing that I was sick because it was not visible," she said. "It wasn't something they could see was wrong with me."
Robinson, who was reprimanded for missing class because of doctor's appointments, worried that she'd face similar experiences when entering the workforce — especially because her frequent and time-consuming appointments often took place at 10 a.m. on Wednesdays or 3 p.m. on Fridays.
"My chronic illness has taken so much away from me socially, mentally, and in the workplace," Robinson said, adding that the "lack of compassion and empathy towards the situation has been the true thing that inspired" her to build something of her own.
She turned her personal brand into a media business called It's Gigi, which gave her the freedom to practice what she preached in terms of flexibility with her physical and mental health.
Robinson is part of a growing group of Gen Z founders who are defying the norms of traditional jobs — empowered by the work-life-balance reckoning sparked by COVID-19 — to create better workplaces for themselves and their employees. They're rejecting antiquated rules like the 9-to-5 schedule and prioritizing aligned values over higher salaries.
"The way Gen Z is treating mental health and well-being is so different, " Dr. Nina Vasan, the chief medical officer at the mental-health startup Real, said.
Gen Zers are more open about addressing mental-health struggles, more willing to help others manage theirs, and more proactive in getting help than any other generation, she added. The generation is "leading the way to so many dramatic transformations around how we as a society are addressing mental health," she said.
Young founders who implement companywide mental-health support systems are also forcing leaders of other generations to rethink their ways, Vasan said.
Insider spoke with Robinson, Vasan, and other entrepreneurs to understand Gen Z's take on work and wellness. With the future of business in the hands of Gen Z, corporate American companies may need to follow its lead to succeed.
Gen Z founders' experiences inform their policies
While the young generation has made waves in mental health, Gen Z founders aren't immune to the emotional damage that comes with promoting a business online.
"A lot of Gen Z founders burn themselves out more than ever because of how much they're posting on social media to support their brands," Larissa May, the founder of the mental-health nonprofit #HalfTheStory, said.
To address this stress, Gen Z founders are implementing policies like flexible schedules, internal support systems, referral programs, and time away from the screen for themselves and their teams.
Gen Z "founders are speaking for their generation and trying to create a world where they themselves, their companies, their employees are able to have more of that balance," Vasan said.
Robinson — who prioritizes daily movement, a schedule that allows her to travel, and passion projects — ensures her hires have the same benefits, she said.
Similarly, Michael Yan, a Gen Z cofounder of the job-search platform Simplify, works with an executive coach to mitigate burnout and better manage workplace conflicts. He also prioritizes talking with employees about work, life, and any support they need.
"Balancing mental health and the success of the company almost seem opposite," Yan said. "If you're not prioritizing your own health, it's hard to prioritize the success of the company."
Gen Z employees expect this progress in the workplace
When working at some of the world's largest tech companies, Yan never experienced the kind of open and vulnerable conversations about mental health that he creates with his staff today, he said.
But Gen Z employees are not putting up with burnout cultures, May said. That's why benefits like mental-health support and wellness stipends have increased employee retention in several industries.
Along with prioritizing balance, job seekers want to find an employer that shares their beliefs.
"A lot of Gen Zers feel more drawn by the mission of a company and what their goal is as opposed to things like salary," Yan said.
In fact, a June survey by the job site Handshake found a trend of Gen Z students who wanted to work for companies they felt aligned with them on factors like diversity, representation, and benefits.
"As Gen Z continues into more positions of power, they will be able to change policy and culture in a way that will permeate and change the older generations," Vasan said. "We're going to see a wonderful cultural and social shift."
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