Supporting young people starting their first job

Beckett Frith
Beckett Frith

Senior Content Officer, Mental Health at Work

Starting a new job can be a daunting time for anyone. You may find yourself having to learn about your new role, but also needing to adapt to the culture of your new workplace, make new social connections, and navigate brand new ways of doing things.

And while it’s difficult for all of us, it’s an especially big step for those who have just left school or university and are taking on their first-ever full-time job.

My anxiety was through the roof

Lucy Brett has been working at Mind for six months. While she did have a year in industry as part of her university course, it took place during the pandemic, so was entirely home-based. Now, she regularly comes into the office – a brand new experience for her.

“Everything was so scary – my anxiety was through the roof,” she says. “It wasn’t just the big things you expect, like meeting new people – it was things like how to get the printers to work, how to use the taps in the kitchen, those kinds of things.

“I feel like when people have been in their jobs for a long time, they forget the how anxiety-inducing it can be at the start.”

A job applicant being interviewed by two people at an office

Lucy’s concerns are echoed in Mental Health at Work’s new report into the wellbeing of younger workers. According to the Young People’s Mental Health in the Workplace report by The Mental Health Foundation, nearly three-quarters (72%) of younger workers said they experienced poor mental health in the last 12 months.

And many are worried that talking about their issues will reflect poorly on them. The TELUS Health Report found that half (50%) of 20-29 year old British workers have expressed concerns that speaking up about a mental health condition could stint their career progress.

Employers should foster a culture where discussions about mental health are part of the agenda

“This highlights the need for employers to create a workplace culture that builds trust and destigmatises discussions around mental health,” says Paula Allen, Global Leader and Senior Vice-President of Research and Total Wellbeing at TELUS Health.

“To build trust, employers should foster a culture where open discussions about mental health are part of the workplace agenda, including self-care, use of services and ensuring psychological safety. Leading by example is an effective approach to achieve this. When leaders set a positive and inclusive tone and it encourages employees at all levels to feel more comfortable addressing their own mental health concerns.”

Two young engineers talk while using a whiteboard.

TTC Institute works with over 3,000 postgraduate and undergraduate students a year who are looking to make the transition from academia to the workplace. They help young people explore their options, including introducing them at an early stage to work practices and industry technology in the classroom, to plan how to do this effectively without negatively impacting their mental health.

Dr David Norman, the Chairman and Director of Education of TTC, explains that for young people moving from academia to their first new job there are challenges employers should be aware of. “Apart from learning new work practices and technologies there are social challenges related to meeting new work colleagues and working with management for the first time,” he says. “New starters also need to develop good time-management skills and to plan their work/life balance in order to maintain their mental health.”

Trying to keep up with the demands of long working hours

“They may be anxious about making a good impression as well as trying to keep up with the demands of long working hours,” David continues. “They may experience imposter syndrome, develop eating disorders, and have problems with personal finances. This can lead to stress and mental health issues which causes depression.”

The good news is, there are steps employers can take to ease this transition into the workplace. Deloitte’s research from 2022 found that young people were particularly interested in:

  • flexible working hours,
  • more authentic communication from leadership,
  • more freedom to choose where and when to work,
  • mental health awareness training for managers,
  • opportunities to share challenging experiences with peers and line managers,
  • digital mental health support tools,
  • onboarding which reflects new ways of working so that new employees don’t feel isolated, and
  • financial training in the first years of work

TTC Institute has developed a mental health and awareness programme called Life Force, as well as a range of workplace skills courses that help young people to prepare before leaving university for the workplace transition. Life Force focuses on helping young people, employees and employers to be aware of stressors in the workplace and how to manage them.

A man working in a cafe

“Many employers are aware of the challenges that new staff joiners are up against and have developed their onboarding and HR processes to embrace mental health issues and to help smooth this transition,” says David. “Working with employers who take mental health for the employees very seriously and who recognise that new staff joiners often have unique challenges, helps to highlight areas of the workplace that are subject to mental health problems.

“For example, because of low barriers to entry, one of the areas of business that many graduates join is call centre work. This form of work is stressful and mentally challenging with high levels of employee attrition.”

Many people need professional support

Paula adds that providing clarity around roles and responsibilities can also help ease some of the stress someone might experience at the start of their career. “Employers should provide transparent communication about career development pathways and opportunities for growth within the organisation,” she explains. “This can help alleviate uncertainty and provide young employees with a sense of purpose and direction in their careers.

“But of course, at times, many people need professional support and that’s why supporting the employee’s next step in self-care by recommending and describing the confidential services that are available through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is another way employers can support staff. Having information about the EAP from a manager who is in your corner is a powerful and positive motivator in taking the action needed.”

A man finds support on his phone

Lucy has found the Young People’s Network at Mind to be hugely helpful. “You quickly realise you’re not alone, and other people know what you’re going through,” she says. “It makes such a big difference to find people who are in the same situation as you, and see some friendly faces in the office.

Mind also uses a buddy system, where a new employee is paired with someone who has been working at the organisation longer to help them instantly have a connection outside of their own team.

“I just want people to know they can say ‘Hi’ to their new starters,” Lucy adds. “They might be too scared to say hello to you first, but still want to get to know you!”

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