Navigating the college-to-career transition isn’t just about finding a job. It’s a massive transition in a graduate’s life, requiring new professional norms to learn, a shift in social dynamics, and maybe even a big move far away from home or school. According to a recent TimelyMD survey, 2 in 3 college students feel anxious about starting their careers. One San Francisco State University student recently summed up her career anxiety as a sense of "constant stress I feel" about finding success after graduation.
In school there are services and programs available to students, such as counseling for addiction, health awareness, or stress reduction, that may not seem as accessible or available once they graduate. According to Handshake Network Trends, Gen Z wants to work for employers that offer mental health and wellness benefits—and seek out these workplaces at a higher rate than others.
Here’s what we found:
- Job posts mentioning wellness and mental health have doubled since 2019
- Jobs for roles in high stress or in competitive sectors that are more upfront about discussing mental health and wellbeing are seeing up to 2x more applications
In a survey conducted by mental health provider, Ginger, 85% of CEOs said they care about the mental health of their employees, but don’t know what to do about it. With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re putting a spotlight on why it’s important to be aware of how employers can help Gen Z feel career ready with a recruiting process that’s conscious of their mental health and wellness.
Mental health and wellness benefits are becoming a must-have
With increasingly blurred lines between work and home, Gen Z is speaking up about being seen as a whole person, particularly as they enter the workforce. To embrace a shift in workforce attitudes toward mental health support, employers are making mental health and wellness benefits more accessible to candidates by proactively communicating their competitive offerings.
According to PwC’s 2021 Health and Well-being Touchstone Survey, 53% of respondents added or increased mental health benefits due to the pandemic, and 44% added or increased wellness programs. Some mental health and wellness benefits that have gained popularity include:
- Employee Assistance Programs
- Paid subscriptions to apps like Calm, Headspace, or BetterUp
- Free access to wellness coaching or support groups
- Flexible work schedules
- Gym memberships
- Unlimited paid time off including mental health days
- Employee resource groups or affinity groups
- Activities like cooking, yoga, and meditation
- Company-wide office closures to avoid burnout
Being up front about wellness benefits signals to job seekers that talking openly about mental health isn’t stigmatized in your culture, so make sure you clearly list these competitive benefits across your recruitment marketing materials. Associating employee testimonials with your employer brand goes a long way in demonstrating how you encourage employees to actually take advantage of these benefits.
How to show your commitment to mental health and wellness during the recruiting process
In addition to amplifying your brand, a recruiting process that is empathetic, transparent, and provides a psychologically safe candidate experience will help illustrate how your culture encourages mental health and wellness.
1. Audit your messaging for inclusive language
Inclusive language empowers individuals and groups to feel respected, engaged, motivated, and valued. Using inclusive language in your job descriptions, marketing materials, recruiting messages, and throughout the candidate experience is an effective way to contribute toward a culture that is caring of a candidates’ overall wellbeing. In addition to updating your vocabulary, you can also personalize your messaging to support candidates in their transition from college—where they likely have a more established support system—to career.
2. Clearly explain each step of the recruitment process
Job searching and interviewing is an unfamiliar process for early career professionals. Calm Gen Z’s uncertainty by communicating the steps of your recruitment process up front and throughout the candidate journey. If something stressful comes up for the candidate, give them the benefit of the doubt and maintain an open line of communication.
"When I spoke with [the recruiter] during our initial meeting, she told me that if I ever had an exam or something big coming up just let her know and we would work around my schedule. I think that was very important to show me that they were [not only] giving me an opportunity to come into their organization, but they also understood and supported me as a student because that’s my priority as well."
Crystal, student at Oakland University
3. Humanize your interviews
Experienced professionals know that interviews can be imperfect yet successful, but it’s important to put early career candidates at ease. Let them know it’s OK to ask for some time before answering a question, provide guidance about whether to be on or off-camera for a virtual call, and help them feel supported with their technical setup.
Tip: Take a moment to check in on the candidate’s wellbeing and acknowledge the big things that recent grads are experiencing, e.g. “I know interviewing can be stressful and you have so much on your plate, so feel free to let me know if you need to take a break for some deep breaths!”
4. Train teams on the importance of empathy and mental health
Looking for a job can be a very stressful experience and can cause burn out. Everyone involved in the recruiting process influences the candidate experience and should be trained on the value of empathy to ensure candidates feel heard and respected throughout the interview process. The correlation between mental health and the candidate experience is critical so that qualified talent isn't inadvertently screened out.
5. Offer curated mental health & wellness recruitment events
Employer-hosted events that are tailored to the early career job search process are another way to demonstrate your commitment to employee wellbeing. Think “Your Job Search & Mental Health” or “Avoiding Burnout” featuring experts from your leadership or people team (or, if you’re in healthcare, medical practitioners) that can shed insight into how Gen Z can take care of themselves throughout the job search.
Content ideas include discussing the application process, inviting candidates into breakout groups to discuss how they’re feeling, exposing the mental health and wellness benefits your employer offers, or even having an expert guest therapist or speaker who can offer job search tips or group activities like mindfulness exercises. You can also provide an option for anonymous questions during “Ask Me Anything” sessions so that students aren’t reluctant to vocalize mental health concerns in a group forum.
6. Maintain open lines of communication within your community
Offering candidates multiple ways to get in touch with you and your team is another avenue to demonstrate care for your candidates’ mental wellness during the recruitment process. A candidate who is anxious about the recruitment process could benefit from talking it out with a current employee like alumni, ERG members, or other folks involved in the recruiting process who can address any questions about mental health and wellness benefits and programming, technical difficulties with remote interviews, questions the candidate didn’t get to ask during the interview, etc.
"My colleague, Hetal, and I co-created the “MoreThanWork” program to bring Community into our recruiting process. As respective ERG co-leads, we wanted to give candidates a chance to explore the realities of life working here, separate from the pressures of formal interviewing. Being able to connect with someone with shared interests or life experience or have a candid and confidential discussion about the realities of life and work is just necessary. Our mental health is taking center stage."
McKinley, Talent Team at Handshake
7. Demonstrate inclusivity and foster belonging
Gen Z has been referred to as “the loneliest generation” but consider, too, the intersectionality of being a Gen Zer in an underrepresented group for whom feeling a sense of belonging can be mentally draining. Some ways that you can demonstrate inclusivity are surveying candidates for feedback on the recruiting process, and involving a diverse slate of senior leaders from underrepresented backgrounds in recruiting events to show your employer’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
While it’s important to offer mental health and wellness benefits, make sure it’s clear that nothing your employer offers is mandatory or meant to add stress, as wellness can become harmful if a candidate or employee feels the offerings or participation are not inclusive.
8. Be transparent about salary
Financial stress is a root cause of anxiety for young people. So it’s logical that salary factors into how candidates make decisions about their overall wellbeing. Students surveyed for the Handshake Network Trends “Gender, Equity, and Gen Z Report” overwhelmingly chose “salary ranges in job postings” as the greatest motivator for applying to a position, as well as the greatest motivator for staying in a position.
“Employers need to know that we prioritize a work-life balance, healthy company culture, and fair compensation…We can’t afford to settle for less."
Anisah, student at University of Washington
9. Describe your accommodating facilities & equipment
If work is done at an office location, your candidate tours can include any soundproof rooms, rooms that can be made extra dark, or even nap rooms. If your company is remote-first, inform candidates of available stipends for home office equipment that helps employees do their work comfortably—such as ergonomic chairs, noise canceling headphones, or standing desk treadmills.
10. Embrace flexible work
In 2021, remote jobs were almost 3x more popular than non-remote jobs among job seekers on Handshake. While many early talent candidates crave in-person experiences, they see the benefits to flexibility, like the ability to set their own schedule, increase their focus, avoid hectic commutes, take breaks to exercise, and improve their quality of life.
These are all contributing factors toward overall mental wellbeing. Since not all industries can offer remote work, see if your employer can show Gen Zers your commitment to mental health by offering more options for scheduling, more company-wide days off to fully unplug, etc.
"I realize that almost anything that is done in person can be done online. I focus much more in the comfort of my home and feel as if I can go at my own pace. Doing a job online allows me to have a balance between work and life. It allows me to feel comfortable and do my job to the best of my ability."
Alexis, student at Fordham University
Gen Z has faced immense stress given the global and local events that this generation has had to contend with at a young age. Searching for a job can be challenging at any stage of one’s career but for early talent, their job search muscle is still developing. They haven’t yet experienced one rejection after another, and they may not have experienced the joy of an offer, either.
Try to empathize with the state of their mental health at an ambiguous time in their lives and intentionally approach early career professionals with their mental health and wellness at the core of your process.