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Younger workers have higher eco-anxiety than those who’ve come before them. It’s affecting where they can – and will – work.

“Climate change gives me an insane amount of existential anxiety,” says Lillian Zhou. Many young people can probably relate to the 26-year-old Zhou’s worries about the climate – and her desire to work for a company that’s doing something about it.

Zhou grew up in the US state of Michigan, which has been experiencing milder winters coupled with fiercer storms. “These storms have led to flooding that endangers lives and destroys property as well as causes more run-off into our state’s many lakes,” says Zhou. She remembers when floods in 2014 made tap water unsafe for several counties on Lake Erie.

“It’s way too easy to spiral into despair when you read the news or watch Planet Earth documentaries,” she says. That’s why Zhou has turned to work as a way to channel her eco-anxiety in a positive direction. Since graduating from university in 2017, she’s worked in both the private and public sectors, and is currently in a year-long communications role with the solar energy non-profit GRID Alternatives.

“I combat this anxiety through my work,” says Zhou. “Knowing that I am working for an environmentally and socially oriented organisation, that I am working for something bigger than a paycheque – this is what brings me a sense of purpose.”

It’s not the same career path as Zhou’s parents – a nurse and an engineer – who immigrated from China, then stayed with the same employers for nearly their entire careers. Flexibility is a major driver of this shift. Zhou comments, “Nowadays, I think my generation places more emphasis on finding jobs that align with our personal beliefs, and are less afraid to move on if that alignment changes.”

Many young workers like Zhou – middle-class members of Generation Z, living in countries including the US and UK – are searching out similar professional paths that combine flexibility and a deep sense of purpose. Demand is surging for these kinds of climate-related jobs – making it crucial for employers, careers advisors and educational institutions to revamp their programming to be as climate-relevant as possible.

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