Gen Z’s and young Millennials just might be the most wellness-conscious generations, fueling the reinvention of the post-pandemic workplace culture. But they’re also suffering from a myriad of mental health issues, many brought on by the pandemic. As this new generation enters the workforce, employers must be ready to provide adequate mental health benefits to accommodate their needs. One of the most forward-moving innovations supporting young employees is the Born This Way Foundation, co-founded by Lady Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta. If your company doesn’t prioritize mental health, mom and daughter insist, you might miss recruiting top talent from Generation Z’s and Millennials.
Making ‘Kindfulness’ Cool Again
Born This Way Foundation supports the mental health of young people—especially the BIPOC community—working to build a kinder and braver work world. “I came to the foundation with a strong business background which is why my daughter asked me to work with her, because I understand corporate America,” Germanotta told me. “I was a product of the 1980s and 1990s workplace cultures—one of those chained to the desk people for whom the cumulative stress was horrible.
In my conversation with Germanotta, I discovered where Lady Gaga’s coolness came from and found her mom to be just as hip, kind and caring as her daughter. Germanotta said she worked under the Dark Age, iron-fisted management styles where there was a perception that kindness was mushy or weak when, in fact, its a great strength. “You can make tough business decisions, be productive and have strong profits and do it with dignity, kindness and compassion,” she said. “It’s a tool, not just some fuzzy word. As much as there is a stigma to mental health in the workplace, there’s a stigma associated with soft words such as kindness in the workplace. Unfortunately, the belief that management has to be tough to be profitable still lingers.”
The lingering myth that links kindness with weakness or ineptness, that softness undercuts profits and that companies must be tough to be profitable, reminded Germanotta of how Lady Gaga was affected by so much unkindness when she started her career. “Looking back as a mom, the reason our foundation exists is because of my daughter’s experience with the lack of kindness and how instrumental that was impacting her mental health journey,” she said. “At a time in her life when she needed kindness for many reasons—exclusion, bullying, her being different—it wasn’t present. People had a choice to fill that negative space with kindness, yet chose not to. Kindness could have changed the trajectory of her mental health experiences, which got darker and darker because the unkindness was unrelenting and did not let up. This incredible, confident young woman was faced with a difficult and challenging experience which is why she chose to share her story. She was brave enough to talk about the lack of kindness when she was on stage and how it affected her mental health. That’s how the foundation got started. Young people were saying, ‘Oh, my god, Gaga, how did you do it? We have the same things happen to us.’”
Germanotta told me how proud she is of her daughter that she chose to use a platform to do good. “She firmly believes that this is her real purpose in life, helping young people. Of course, she couldn’t breathe without her music, but this is what she wants to be her legacy for young people all over the world. I just feel privileged to be part of it. It happened at a point in my life that it was such a surprise to get to work with young people everyday.”
The Foundation’s Workplace Kindness Research
The foundation has studied the intersection of kindness and mental health for the last 10 years and found an undeniable link between the two. Recently, they teamed up with Indeed to conduct a study on how workers between the ages of 18 and 29 value kindness and mental health in the workplace. The study of 1,200 young people found that 79% of respondents believe mental health should be a priority in the workplace and are seeking employers who enact policies of kindness that support mental health. According to Germanotta, key findings from the study include:
- 77% of respondents were more likely to apply for a job posting that listed “kindness” as an important value of the company.
- 74% of respondents said it’s important to have a kind community in the workplace such as having managers check in on their team members for professional and personal support.
- 89% of young workers see mental health and kindness as high priorities in the workplace.
- A mere 32% of employees work in environments where paid personal or mental health days are provided.
- Only half of the young people surveyed reported having health insurance that covers mental health care.
The survey revealed that young people are more passionate about their careers and invested in their work if they are in a kind workplace that prioritizes mental health—a win-win for employees and employers. In the “new normal,” young people working today believe mental health and kindness go hand in hand and are of equal importance in the workplace, according to the research. “People spend a great deal of time in the workplace. What the data from this study means is that we have an opportunity and obligation for companies to be more welcoming to young workers and to attract and retain talent,” Germanotta said. “We all win when we prioritize people as much as profit. We have better productivity and healthier and happier employees. Diversity brings about change because you have different perspectives and people who look at problems from different angles. It can be more creative and everybody wins.”
According to Germanotta, this research has further demonstrated the connection between mental health and kindness and the role we each have in ensuring young people succeed and flourish in their personal and professional lives. “Companies that want to attract, retain and support their workers can take tangible actions in order to encourage kind communities at work, increase access to needed mental health resources and affirm and respect all in their work spaces. Born This Way Foundation aims to validate the emotions of young people, encourage kindness and eliminate the stigma around mental health—the workplace is a critical environment to achieve these goals,” she concluded.
The foundation is putting their money where their mouth is. They are committing one million dollars for funding youth-led mental health initiatives in various communities in tandem with Lady Gaga’s 2022 Chromatica Ball Tour this summer in the cities where she wil