Boost the mental health of young workers
The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day (Wednesday 10th October) is “young people and mental health in a changing world.”
As the headlines in the run-up to the day will highlight, this is an important theme because there are now many issues affecting the mental health of young adults. But as Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson’s brave account of the extent to which she struggled with depression, self-harming and suicidal thoughts in her youth shows, young people can and do come through past issues to achieve amazing things.
However, with just 1% of the UK’s entire health budget being spent on the mental health of young people, employers will inevitably have to do more to help the next generation thrive in a changing world.
So here are our top five tips on how you can boost the mental health of young workers in the run-up to this year’s World Mental Health Day.
Five ways to boost the mental health of younger workers
1. Address loneliness at work
Young people have the greatest risk of loneliness, with young adults aged 16-24 twice as likely to feel lonely ‘always or most of the time’
With many young people more likely to be living away from family and friends for the first time and yet to establish roots in a new location, work can often become their only source of social interaction with others.
Given the extent to which humans are social creatures and need positive social interaction with others to sustain good mental health, employers have a vital role to play in reducing loneliness at work
By creating more opportunities for young people to interact with each other at work, even if it’s just encouraging everyone to eat together at lunch, instead of alone at their desks, employers can help to reduce loneliness and build up the social capital within the business – that is to say the personal relationships and networks vital to enabling the business to remain agile and innovative.
Those working from home should also be encouraged to increase their social interaction by exploring their local communities at lunchtime and doing more to connect with friends and family in the evenings.
Setting up CSR projects that allow increasingly ethically minded young people to ‘tend and befriend’ people being supported by local charities can also help them to feel more connected to others, boosting their mental health and boosting your CSR credentials in the process.
2. Provide consistency in a changing world
Although there has been no such thing as a job for life for over a generation, people entering the workplace over a decade ago could look forward to secure employment, a consistent role, salary and pay rises. All of which gave them confidence in the future and the security needed to take out a mortgage or plan for the future.
Now the world is a much less certain place, with young people not only more likely to be affected by less job security, constant restructuring and zero hours contacts, but also less likely to be able to buy their own home and secure their lives outside of work.
All of this uncertainty takes a toll on mental health levels, so anything employers can do to make people feel more secure at work, can help. The HSE’s six management standards are a good starting point.
Given how little control young adults have over the rest of their life, paying extra attention to the guidelines on letting them have control over the way they do their work and consistency of workloads and work environment can help to reduce overall anxiety levels. Something as simple as getting them to bring in their own mug and giving them a desk to call their own at work, instead of constantly making them hot-desk, can also help individuals to feel more secure.
3. Nip mental health issues in the bud
In the event that a young person does start to feel overwhelmed at work, turning a blind eye and hoping the problem will self-correct, will typically only allow the problem to deteriorate to the point where the problem can no longer be ignored.
Instead, by encouraging managers to offer kind enquiry into how younger workers are doing and directing them towards appropriate support services, managers can help to nip mental health issues in the bud.
This isn’t about attempting to turn managers into counsellors. It’s about getting them to recognise that their duty of care includes directing people towards appropriate support, be this the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), OH or HR, as quickly as possible if someone is starting to sink.
In the event that an acute stress or anxiety disorder has already deteriorated into a more serious mental health issue, pressure on the NHS means managers also have a vital role to play when it comes to letting new, younger workers know about any counselling or other therapy services offered by the company.
The more timely the support, the less chance of them becoming long-term sick or absent and the more chance of them being helped to recover while still in work.
4. Induct young people into good mental health
Instead of assuming that people new to the workplace know how to look after their mental health, take time to induct new workers into how best to protect and optimise their mental health.
Young workers will be particularly keen to prove themselves and far from slacking off are at risk of pushing themselves past their limits. In order to leave the house and get to work on time, we have to suppress the desire to stay in bed and go back to sleep. But when we also start suppressing the desire to eat so that we can work through lunch, or the desire to see friends so that we can work late to hit a deadline, the level of suppression becomes unhealthy.
Employers must make sure individuals know they have a duty to look after their mental health, and to eat, sleep, socialise and create space in the day to be mindful and space in the evenings to do things that give them joy. This helps to give young people ‘permission’ to look after themselves, recharge their batteries and not push themselves past their limits.
Managers should also be encouraged to lead by example. If the organisation is saying one thing, perhaps about not extending the working day by sending emails late at night, but managers are doing this, the message to younger, newer employees is ‘this is what it takes to get on here’. But if managers demonstrate positive mental health behaviours, such as following bouts of intense work with a short break and leaving work on time, young workers are much more likely to do this and avoid the mental health issues now plaguing the workplace.
5. Support the parents of the next generation
According to the World Health Organisation, half of all mental illness begins before the age of 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated. Issues such as depression and self-harming are now affecting an unprecedented number of adolescents, with suicide now the leading cause of death among young people aged 20-34.
There is now growing recognition of the need to help young people build resilience from the earliest ages in order to cope with the challenges of today’s world. Not only does this help the individuals concerned, but it also helps to build economies and a society fit for the future.
Employers can help by supporting the parents of children and teenagers in particular to better understand the behavioural issues that are the warning signs associated with mental health issues and their role in helping their child to cope with challenges at home and at school.
What’s more providing workshops in this area and setting up support groups for parents at work to come together to discuss the challenges they face with bringing up the next generation will do more than just help the next generation. It will make adult workers struggling with these challenges feel more supported and connected in a way that will also reduce the pressure on them.
For a free consultation about the mental health challenges your organisation faces and ways in which we might be able to help you address these, please email us via [email protected] or call us on 01494 685200.
For specific information on solutions tailored to boosting the mental health of younger workers, please email Karen Matovu, via [email protected].