Why employers need to support a vulnerable demographic in the workplace – young professionals

Mailies Fleming

Project Assistant, Mind

Young people in the UK are facing a mental health crisis, and the coronavirus pandemic has only made this harder to tackle. Mailies Fleming, who worked in Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing team as part of the CharityWorks graduate programme, explains why this is a problem for her age group, and what employers could be doing to help.

Earlier this year, Deloitte published a report revealing young professionals to be the most vulnerable demographic in the workplace.

Young professionals are twice as likely to suffer from depression as the average worker and are more susceptible to financial concerns, with 90% of younger workers surveyed by BITC Business in the Community Business in the Community exists to build healthy communities with successful businesses at their heart. View organisation in 2018 saying that their mental health was affected by the cost of living.

Yet younger workers often don’t receive the support they need from their employers. This is despite the fact that poor mental health among young employees costs employers around 8.3% of a young employee’s salary, the highest among any employee age group.

Almost 40% of 16-to-24-year olds worked in sectors that went into lockdown.

In the months since these findings were published, the coronavirus pandemic​Everyone: coronavirus and mental health Video During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, looking after your mental and physical health at work has never been more important. Acas have put together a video to help you look after yourself during the COVID-19 crisis.Free By: Acas View resource has added unexpected dimensions into the mix, particularly around social isolation and financial insecurity. Almost 40% of 16-to-24-year olds worked in sectors that went into lockdown and job security remains highly uncertain for them as the furlough scheme draws to a close.

As a twenty-something year old who is about to leap into the unforgiving jaws of this job market, I’m concerned that the vulnerabilities young employees faced prior to the pandemic will become exacerbated, unless employers step in to help.

A new employee is helped by her manager.

Presenteeism​Presenteeism and the hidden costs of staff who are glued to their seats Web page This news article from the Institute of Directors (IoD), in collaboration with Raconteur, discusses the issue of presenteeism and how it can be managed within an organisation. Free By: Institute of Directors View resource and leaveism are issues that employers should be particularly aware of among young employees. Presenteeism is defined as people showing up for work despite being physically or mentally unwell and therefore being unable to be properly productive. Leaveism is a newer trend which involves employees feeling pressured to work outside of their normal working hours. According to Deloitte, both are “characteristics of a technology-enabled, always-on workplace culture”, are “closely linked to employee burnout”, and are issues to which younger employees are particularly susceptible.

The world I’ve grown up in as tail-end millennial can be characterised by its exponentially increasing capacity for connectivity. For those of us whose formative years were shaped by the emergence of social media, we’re used to having endless information available at our fingertips. We’re also far too used to the feeling of FOMO- the ‘fear of missing out’. It doesn’t feel normal to ‘switch off’. In fact, it often feels anxiety-inducing​Managing stress and anxiety (Police) PDF Mind have created this PDF booklet to explore some of the causes of stress and anxiety for the police force, and have brought together some tips to help you cope better at work.Free By: Mind View resource.

What could you be missing out on in the time you spend offline? It could be a social event. It could be a new job. When you might be missing out an opportunity to make much-needed income, can you afford to switch off?

Workplaces can and should be adapted to be inclusive.

If we allow ‘productive’ pursuits (such as working overtime) to eat into the time we’ve set aside for ‘unproductive’ things (like sleep or self-care) what we are left with, suggests artist and author Jenny Odell, are “24 potentially monetizable hours”.

An increased flexibility around the time we spend being productive has been crucial in our responses to coronavirus restrictions. Not only has the flexibility of remote working made it possible for many to work safely from home, it has proven that workplaces can and should be adapted to be inclusive of those employees for whom office environments are disabling.

A woman works from home after her usual working hours.

Yet there have also been considerable costs to employee mental health. There is evidence to suggest that employees working remotely during lockdown worked longer hours than usual and felt pressured to be constantly contactable, with lockdown leaving no viable excuse for their unavailability. To me, this suggests a working culture that does not respect the boundaries around personal time, nor take employee wellbeing seriously.

What does this mean for younger employees? As a demographic, our mental health is already significantly impacted by how we spend our time online, with 57% of the 16-24 year olds surveyed by the Prince’s Trust saying that social media creates “overwhelming pressure” to succeed.

As remote working becomes part of the ‘new normal’, is there a risk that the performative culture of social media spaces could creep further into remote workplaces? If younger employees are struggling with their mental health, will they feel comfortable asking for help, or could the screens separating them from their colleagues encourage them to put up a façade?

The fear of losing my job outweighed the need to look after my mental wellbeing.

I was fortunate that my graduate job at Mind Mind Mind provides advice and support on mental health, and campaigns to improve understanding, across England and Wales. View organisation offered me extensive support mechanisms for my mental health. Yet the stigma​Tools for raising awareness and tackling stigma Web page Line managers and supervisors are the frontline of wellbeing management. This resource shows managers in the railway industry where to find information to promote awareness of mental health in the workplace.FreeSign up for free to access By: RSSB View resource I had internalised towards mental illness meant I felt apprehensive about making use of this support. In previous roles, mostly in the hospitality industry, I had always forced myself to go into work, no matter how bad I felt. The fear of losing my job outweighed the need to look after my mental wellbeing. That aligned me with the 83% of 18-24 year olds who always or most often go into work when they are struggling with their mental health.

I remember how relieved I felt when I was finally honest about struggling with my mental health at work. My manager was completely supportive and actively encouraged me to take time off. Rather than feeling guilty for being off work, this helped me focus more fully on feeling better and getting myself back into a fit state to work.

A man calls his colleague for support.

In the workplace itself, it helped that wellbeing check-ins were routinely part of meetings, and that colleagues encouraged one another to take breaks away from their desks and leave work on time. These small but significant gestures made me feel valued as an individual, rather than just for my productivity levels. These factors are among several that Student Minds Student Minds Student Minds is a UK-based student mental health charity. View organisation have identified as contributing to a good transition for graduates into the workplace, and are beneficial for employees of all ages.

With the evolving challenges of the coronavirus pandemic putting renewed pressures on employers and employees alike, it can be easy to lose sight of the small but vital structures that support our mental wellbeing at work. But it is precisely these structures that many young employees rely on and which will become all the more important for coping with the mental and financial strains of a deepening recession.

As employers weigh up the cost-effectiveness of normalising remote working, it is vital that they make their new ways of working supportive of their younger employees.

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