Originally published in CEOWORLD Magazine.
Most Millennials might not have been working during the last recession, but they’ve grown up feeling its effects.
Now, they’re standing on the edge of another huge economic slump — only this time, they’re shouldering a lot more responsibility.
The COVID-19 crisis is impacting every industry, and it will transform the way we work for months — maybe even years. Your Millennial employees are likely feeling uneasy and looking to leaders to help them ride out the storm. Will you be there for them?
Why Millennial Workers Are on Edge
Due to the last economic downturn, this generation is already living in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous situation (often abbreviated as VUCA). A recession will certainly amplify all of those elements.
We’re talking about a generation that has already found itself in tough times financially compared to its parent’s generation. Many Millennials are probably doing well enough on their own; they have a decent job, pay the bills, and live somewhere comfortably. But they’re surviving paycheck to paycheck and are unable to put much toward savings. Plus, most Millennials have less than $5,000 in backup funds — so if their income stops flowing, they won’t make it far.
Financial struggles aren’t the only burden Millennials have to bear during the COVID-19 crisis. Their physical well-being is at risk, too. Although the disease appears to impact older people most severely, it can certainly be serious among young people as well. This is especially true considering Millennials have seen increased rates of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even some cancers.
Reactions to crises are also likely to be more intense with this generation considering that mental health conditions are more prevalent among it. Existing anxiety disorders and depression can worsen at this time, as can general feelings of loneliness and social isolation.
All of these factors — exacerbated by the extraordinary new stresses of life in a pandemic — could leave your Millennial employees vulnerable to increased anxiety and uncertainty.
How to Help Your Millennial Employees Develop Resilience
You can’t fix your Millennial employees’ financial health, give them better immune systems, or cure their mental illnesses. But you can offer them at least one helpful skill: resilience. This is crucial for not just getting through times of crisis, but also being at our best when it’s most needed.
Here are just a few starting points for caring employers to start cultivating a culture of resilience that will help their Millennial cohorts survive and thrive in this new climate.
1. Balance emotion and reason. Anxiety can soar when emotions exceed reasoning. Balancing emotional empathy with a rational discussion about problems and solutions will be key to reassuring and empowering Millennial employees. Leaders who put people first and lead with purpose will help employees find the right balance. Don’t ignore your employees’ emotions — showing empathy and care can help individuals and teams increase performance.
2. Help employees overcome triggers and negative self-talk. Another way to help employees gain better resilience is to help them compare emotions to truth. We teach employees a method called ETC (or emotion, truth, choice) to do this.
First, recognize what you’re feeling: What am I feeling, and what is my self-talk like at this moment? Then, assess the reality of the situation: What is the truth at this moment? After that, evaluate the answers to those two questions to make the best choice: What are my options, and which decision is best? This process helps us get out of reactive patterns and gives us the capacity to choose our response.
3. Start future-storming. Tomorrow will be different than today. And smart people will struggle to see the future for themselves because of practical, present-day biases that anchor them to the present. We’ve moved from what was merely a VUCA environment to a time where disruptions come with unprecedented speed and impact: In other words, what seemed unthinkable three weeks back is now normal.
All of this means it’s time to future-storm. Today, set time aside to unpack the trends buffeting and accelerating our world, consider how they interact with each other, and reveal the possible scenarios in the future that might matter to your business. These processes can be liberating, and they help us lift our gaze and see opportunity when situations feel grim. Doing this activity as a team should make you all feel more equipped to face the challenges ahead and identify opportunities that might not be obvious.
4. Create a playbook. You can tell your employees that you’re dedicated to helping them ride out the storm, and that might provide them momentary comfort. But to keep them feeling confident amid uncertainty, give them a list of actions you’re going to try and resources you’re going to provide. Set these moves out now so you don’t scramble to build a resilience playbook once another crisis strikes.