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WASHINGTON — If you’re in your 20s or 30s, chances are you’ve felt lonely, unappreciated, and anxious at work lately. A new survey has confirmed what many young professionals have been feeling – the modern workplace can be an isolating and stressful environment, especially for this generation of young workers.

The American Psychological Association’s 2024 Work in America survey polled over 2,000 working American adults about their experiences on the job. The findings paint a picture of workplaces that leave younger employees feeling disconnected, undervalued, and overwhelmed. Perhaps the most striking statistic: nearly half (45%) of workers between 18 and 25 frequently feel lonely when working, significantly more than older age groups. Younger workers were also more likely to report feeling tense or stressed during the typical workday.

What’s causing this epidemic of work loneliness and anxiety among the young? Part of it may be difficulties connecting with colleagues from different age groups. The survey found that 62% of young workers between 18 and 25 and 57% of those 26 to 43 years-old feel more comfortable working with peers in their own age range. There also seems to be an ageism issue, with many younger workers believing their ideas aren’t respected by those much older or younger. An alarming 48% of the 18-25 age group believe people not close to their age in the same organization don’t see value in their ideas, compared to just 16% of those 65 and older.

“With more workers retiring later in life, the demographics of the workplace are changing and younger workers seem to be having the hardest time adjusting,” says Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, the APA’s chief executive officer, in a media release. “To remain competitive, employers should invest in strategies that support their workers’ well-being and mental health.”

worker tired
A new survey has confirmed what many young professionals have been feeling – the modern workplace can be an isolating and stressful environment, especially for this generation of young workers. (Credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels)

The generational gap isn’t the only workplace shift younger employees are struggling with. The survey also discovered a mismatch between where employees want to work versus their current jobs. While 59% say they’re working fully in-person, only 38% say they prefer to be in an office full-time. Notably more wanted a hybrid or fully remote setup.

The rapid adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) tools in the workplace is another source of upheaval for workers. Over one-third of the poll use AI monthly or more for work, yet only 18% said their employer has an official policy around acceptable AI use. Many younger workers fear AI could make aspects of their jobs obsolete.

Amidst all this change and division, cultivating an environment of “psychological safety” – where employees feel free to express themselves without negative consequences – emerged as a critical factor for modern workplaces. Those believing they had more psychological safety were far more likely to feel they belonged at their workplace and could be authentic compared to those with lower psychological safety. Concerningly, the survey found workers with disabilities experienced psychological unsafety at alarming rates, likely linked to ableism and unequal access. Two-thirds of those with cognitive/mental disabilities and 63% with physical disabilities reported lower psychological safety, versus 45% of non-disabled workers.

“Younger and older workers alike are facing a paradigm shift around where and how we work,” Dr. Evans continues.

Methodology

The research was conducted online in the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association among 2,027 employed adults. The survey was conducted March 25–April 3, 2024. Data are weighted where necessary by age by gender, race/ethnicity, region, education, marital status, household size, work status, household income, and smoking status to bring them in line with their actual proportions in the population.

StudyFinds Editor Chris Melore contributed to this report.

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