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Lost Generation left suffering in the aftermath of recession

Article by: Chris Bailey | Published: 16 March 2017

Generation that entered workforce following the last recession has the greatest financial concerns and is the least physically active. Employees aged 35 and under lose the highest average amount of productive time due to absenteeism and presenteeism. Comment from Chris Bailey, Partner at Mercer.

Employees aged 35 years old and under have the most financial concerns and are the least physically active, according to data from Britain’s Healthiest Workplace (BHW). These same employees, many of whom entered the workforce following the recent global financial crisis, already suffer from social mobility challenges and tough economic conditions1, and now we are seeing the considerable impact this has on individuals’ health and wellbeing. BHW data shows that employees under 35 years old are the least physically active in the workforce, have a high proportion of smokers2 and eat the least fruit and vegetables each day.

BHW data shows that almost 35 percent of 26-30 year old employees are physically inactive, completing less than 150 minutes of exercise a week, and on top of this nearly 14 percent of this age group smoke. Comparatively, the same data shows that older employees have healthier habits, with 22.5 percent of 56-60 year olds being physically inactive and only a small proportion (6.1 percent) smoking. BHW surveys more than 34,000 workers across all UK industries and was developed in partnership with VitalityHealth, Mercer, the University of Cambridge, and RAND Europe.

Data from BHW shows that high stress levels can have major impacts on employee productivity at work, which in turn has cost implications for the employer. The generation that joined the workforce during the aftermath of the financial crisis is financially disadvantaged, with increased work pressures and stagnant wages1 and according to BHW data, on average employees aged 35 or under report the highest levels of financial concerns. This same age group also loses up to 30 days at work due to absence and underperformance due to ill-health, also known as ‘presenteeism’. This translates to workers losing more than an entire working month of productive time annually, whilst in comparison, employees aged between 56 and 60 reported up to 13 percent less financial concerns, losing on average just 19.6 days annually.

“Ill-health, unhealthy lifestyles and financial stress are all factors associated with employees losing productive time at work,” said Chris Bailey, Partner at Mercer. “Employees 35 years old and under have become part of a ‘lost generation’, suffering both health wise and financially as a result of the recession. It is important to keep this ‘lost generation’ healthy and active as we know that they will be working longer than generations before them. Employers recognise that working for prolonged periods with ill-health will significantly affect employee stress and productivity levels over time. These employees are the future of work and companies should invest in them through holistic wellbeing programmes which include physical and mental health, financial wellbeing and other associated areas such as social interaction and personal development. It’s important to take a view of what makes a person truly ‘well’ and able to be as productive as possible over a sustained period.”

Shaun Subel, Director of Strategy at VitalityHealth said, “When examining the UK’s productivity challenge we have seen that demographic factors such as age and income play a key role, with the younger generation and lower earners being particularly susceptible to high levels of absence and presenteeism. While young people are naturally less affected by clinical and chronic health conditions, our results show that in terms of lifestyle health they are in fact worse off than their older counterparts – they get less exercise, are less likely to eat healthily and are more likely to smoke, suggesting that people become more health-conscious in their behaviour as they age. In parallel, the younger generation suffers more from financial concerns, and is shown to be significantly less engaged in work, pointing to the effect of the financial crisis in damaging job prospects and wage progression for this ‘lost generation’ of workers.”