Stressing about stress is, well, stressful. Luckily, millennials are the least likely to stress out in the workplace, according to new research from a LinkedIn Learning study, with Gen Xers worrying the most, and Baby Boomers stressing out slightly less. The findings might sound surprising due to the uptick in millennials opening up about battling an anxiety disorder or some form of localized anxiety, earning them the title of the “anxious generation.” But it’s crucial not to conflate anxiety and stress.
According the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, stress is defined as the response from an immediate threatening situation, like a heavy workload, a bad boss, lack of public transit to get to work on time, explains Dr. Michael Ungar, author of Change Your World: The Science of Resilience and The Path to Success. Contrastingly, anxiety is defined as the disproportionate reaction to said stress.
That could explain why the worries millennials experience in the workplace are tied to fears like if their lives have any meaning, whereas the stress Gen Xers and Baby Boomers experience stems from more immediate threats, like an excessive workload or a limited supply of resources to perform the job properly, according to the LinkedIn study. Across the board, work/life balance and workload were the most stressful and access to tools to do your job the least stressful of the stress drivers LinkedIn looked at.
Unlike Baby Boomers and Gen Xers who have been conditioned to strive for more money, the plight of the millennial in the workplace is more existential. “This is a generation largely raised with the belief that they are important people and what they do has to matter,” said Dr. Ungar. “They may not need big houses and fancy cars to feel higher social status, but they do need to be able to say to their peers when having a soy latte at the local organic coffee shop that what they do is important, impactful, and changing the world. When those goals are unrealized, that is when they experience work as unfulfilling and more stressful.”
Here’s the thing, though: that feeling of anxiety isn’t always a bad thing. Research from the Association of Psychological Science found anxiety in moderate doses can help sharpen survival instincts, and in the workplace, that translates to avoiding risky investments or steering clear of untrustworthy coworkers.
“Let’s remember, millennials are still in the exploration phase of their lives, not necessarily looking for promotions. What they want are experiences, and that way of thinking about work is less stressful because it is less goal-oriented and more about quality of life,” said Dr. Ungar.