How Gen Z is helping us reshape the narrative around mental health

By Sheri Bronstein, chief human resources officer, Bank of America

Photo of Sheri Bronstein

Sheri Bronstein

Sheri Bronstein recently discussed mental health in the workplace and the impact Gen Z is having on workplace wellness strategies across the globe at the 2024 World Economic Forum in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland.

Since joining Bank of America in 2000, I have seen significant change in how companies must approach managing their human capital, driven by a wide variety of internal and external factors—technology, economic, cultural and societal issues, the COVID-19 pandemic and others. The one key focus area that has remained a constant for me and our Bank of America senior leadership team is our investment in our people.

My priority has always been to ensure that we are a Great Place to Work for our teammates because they are our greatest asset. This includes thinking about how to support our teams’ well-being, especially for the latest generation to enter the workforce, Gen Z—those born between the late 1990s and early 2010s.

Gen Z has pushed the needle on mental health by showing us that being open about mental health in the workplace is not a weakness, but a strength—and a business imperative.

The physical, emotional and financial wellness of our teammates and their families has long been a core focus at Bank of America. But, in 2018, we learned through our annual wellness survey that more than 20% of teammates were having trouble managing stress, either at home or at work. This underscored for us the critical role that emotional wellness plays in the overall wellness of our teammates, and we developed a strategy to address that need. We focused on reducing the stigma around mental and emotional wellness, expanded existing programs where appropriate, boosted communication and education, and trained leaders and managers on their role in this process.

Three years later, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated inequalities in mental health, exposed the fragility of our mental health care systems and elevated this topic to the forefront for many organizations.

Gen Z experienced disruptions in their education, socialization and early career development during very formative years. On top of the disruptions, they faced unprecedented levels of uncertainty, isolation, stress and even trauma. Now, more than 40% of Gen Z have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, and of those diagnosed, one out of four were diagnosed during the pandemic.1

Unique to the Gen Z population is the attitude they bring toward mental health. In my own conversations with our Gen Z teammates and potential new hires, I’ve noticed they are more open, vocal and proactive about their mental health needs and expectations. They are also more willing to seek help and are unafraid to ask questions, share their experiences and express their opinions on mental health issues. They are eager to learn from others and contribute to creating a more inclusive and supportive work environment.

Responding to feedback from some of these teammates, we created a dedicated quiet space in our New York building where employees can relax, meditate or take a break from their work. We also have counselors at more than 30 of our U.S. locations to provide on-site mental health support.

Communication is an integral part of addressing mental health. We realize that mental health resources can only be used if our teammates know about them. That’s why we spend time during our onboarding sessions to discuss all the resources available with new teammates so that they can take full advantage of our benefits.

To ensure that our mental health services and resources are high quality and beneficial to our teammates, we actively support the Mental Health at Work Index, which uses an evidence-based, data-driven approach to measuring the effectiveness of corporate mental health programs. This helps us to continue to review our programs and provides other organizations with access to best practices to offer support to their teams. There’s no panacea to this issue; it is a journey that takes time, but together we can have an impact in removing stigma and providing needed support and care.

Gen Z has pushed the needle on mental health by showing us that being open about mental health in the workplace is not a weakness, but a strength—and a business imperative. As we continue to build on this momentum, let us commit to working collectively across generations, sectors and communities to prioritize mental health for everyone.

1 Insider Intelligence, “Data Drop: 5 Charts on Gen Z’s mental health and their attitudes toward social media,” June 2023.