Stress, resilience and emotional wellbeing in the younger workforce

Richard Washington, Bupa UK
Richard Washington

Product and Propositions Director, UK Insurance, Bupa UK

I read with great interest Grace Walsh and Roxanna Bayram’s article on this blog, in which they wrote about the importance of a focus on mental wellness – as opposed to illness – in workplace wellbeing strategies. This is something that’s very much aligned with our way of thinking at Bupa UK. We firmly believe in organisations’ responsibilities to take a proactive, preventive approach to their employees’ mental health. This is why we produced our information hub dedicated to helping managers put the right support in place.

An extract of Bupa's Information Hub website, showing three coloured boxes representing three sections: Promoting mental health, Supporting employees, and Information and support
Bupa’s information hub for workplace mental health

In particular, it’s worth considering this shift in mindset in the context of the workforce of tomorrow. Those entering employment in the near future, and even those who’ve started out in the last few years, will have specific requirements and expectations in terms of the promotion of their mental wellbeing.

Broadly speaking, this generation will have benefited from the way that the mental health conversation has started to open up in recent years. The British Social Attitudes survey focused on mental health and wellbeing in 2015 and showed some encouraging findings. As many as 91% of respondents said they know what it means to have good mental wellbeing, with 65% saying they spend time actively thinking about it. Crucially for employers, almost three-quarters (72%) said they know what to do to improve their mental wellbeing, and one-fifth said ‘my job or work–life balance’ is the thing that has the single biggest impact on their mental wellbeing[i]. Our own research here at Bupa bears this out, showing that poor mental health is the foremost cause of work-related absence.

We can expect a workforce that is acutely aware of the impact that work has on their mental wellbeing

As this self-awareness and situational awareness becomes the norm, we can expect a workforce (particularly towards the younger end) that is acutely aware of the impact that work has on their mental wellbeing.

We can expect this trend to continue, with awareness of the importance of mental wellbeing starting to be promoted at an earlier age. The growing popularity of initiatives like the Mindfulness in Schools Project[ii] suggests that in the longer term we’re likely to see a working population that is increasingly informed and empowered when it comes to the conversation around mental wellbeing.

Add to this the inherent emotional upheaval of transitioning into an increasingly uncertain working landscape[iii], and the growing levels of debt shouldered by those arriving from university[iv], and we face many new generations of colleagues that will strongly benefit from an employer with the right approach to mental health.

Workplace wellbeing strategies and communications should use language that reflects a more holistic, less medicalised framing of mental health.

This means not only taking a proactive approach to mental wellbeing (rather than reacting when things go wrong), but also framing the conversation in a way that reflects this. While colleagues may appreciate the importance of what they consider to be mental wellbeing, or even emotional wellbeing, they may not see this as relevant to ‘mental health’ per se. Workplace wellbeing strategies and communications should use language that reflects this more holistic, less medicalised framing of mental health. This could be the difference between someone feeling engaged and taking action now – effectively an early intervention for their mental wellbeing – and letting a problem grow.

A further challenge lies in bridging the gap between positive intent and meaningful action. How often do we see employers pay lip service to mental wellbeing, but fall short in terms of a tangible offering? This is why our tools that you’ll find on the gateway are so focused on practical, actionable solutions. Whether it’s a structured approach to assessing how well you’re currently doing​How well is our workplace supporting mental health? Web page A resource that supports managers in assessing how well their team is currently set up to support good mental health in the workplace.Free By: Bupa UK View resource, a shared toolkit for colleagues and managers to establish individual wellness action plans​Setting up a Wellness Action Plan (WAP) Web page Wellness Action Plans (WAPs) are for everyone, not just someone who has a problem right now. For all of us, it’s important to stay aware of our mental health work, and a WAP can help with this. This guide shows what to consider.Free By: Bupa UK View resource, or a step-by-step guide to running a staff session on mental health and wellbeing, all the resources should help managers and decision-makers fulfil their obligations to their employees’ mental wellbeing.

We don't just need to consider the preventive element for this generation of colleagues

But we don’t just need to consider the preventive element for this generation of colleagues. Unfortunately, young people entering employment after university are increasingly likely to arrive with a previous or ongoing mental health problem. Trends in the statistics around student mental health paint a bleak picture. More and more students are reporting mental health problems during their studies, and many institutions are seeing greater demand for their counselling services[v]. This is why we considered Supporting employees with mental health problems to be a key component of our information offering as well.

[i] Attitudes to mental health problems and mental wellbeing. Findings from the 2015 British Social Attitudes survey. Public Health England / NatCen, 2015. www.bsa.natcen.ac.uk/media/39109/phe-bsa-2015-attitudes-to-mental-health.pdf

[ii] Close your eyes and breathe: schools sign up to mindfulness. The Observer, 23 October 2016. www.theguardian.com/education/2016/oct/23/mindfulness-school-lessons-pupil-stress

[iii] The Future of Work: Jobs and Skills in 2030. UK Commission for Employment and Skills, February 2014. www.gov.uk/government/publications/jobs-and-skills-in-2030

[iv] UK student loan debt soars to more than £100bn. The Guardian, 15 June 2017. www.theguardian.com/money/2017/jun/15/uk-student-loan-debt-soars-to-more-than-100bn

[v] Not by degrees: Improving student mental health in the UK’s universities. Institute for Public Policy Research, September 2017. www.ippr.org/files/2017-09/1504645674_not-by-degrees-170905.pdf

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