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How to help look after the mental health of young people in the workplace

Each year brings in a fresh round of youthful talent to the workplace and employers need to be mindful of the world in which they’ve grown up and the pressures they’ve faced, as it can influence how they operate at work. Growing up with technology has been a blessing and a curse for many young people; for example social media can make individuals feel both a sense of belonging and isolation.

One in ten children and young people are affected by mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, and 70% did not have appropriate interventions at an early enough age.* As a result, we may have seen only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding employees mental health concerns in the workplace. HR has a duty of care and responsibility to support employees with mental health where possible, particularly as work can be a contributory stressor. So, it’s important to understand the world in which young people are growing up to support them appropriately.  

Social media
Social media features as both the villain and hero in many young people’s lives.** On the one hand it can create addiction, resulting in lost sleep by regular checking of notifications, it can also be a tool for cyber bullying – anonymity can mean people post content which can cause distress. On the other hand social media can reduce loneliness, providing instant connectivity to friends and family, and encourage the sharing of similar interests – from gaming to minority communities.

For many other generations in the workplace, who didn’t grow up with social media and may still not have an online presence now, the concept of it can seem alien or even trivial. The solution to social media causing mental health issues can appear simple – not to have an account if it’s causing distress. However, social media plays an integral role in the lives of young people, which spills into the workplace. Social media is readily available to most employees and regularly accessed during a working day. It can lead to distraction and lost productivity (with a constant barrage of notifications) and feelings of inadequacy (that they are not achieving as much in a job as someone else appears to be online).

So, it’s important that businesses have a thorough understanding of social media, including how to use it positively, for example as a tool for engagement and communication. But also, to be aware of its darker side and the effect this can potentially have on mental health issues. When businesses understand the landscape that their young people now operate in, they can work it to their advantage in supporting mental health.

Just as social media can be positive and negative, so can technology. Whilst it’s important that employees know how, and are actively encouraged, to literally and figuratively switch off from technology – there is still a role for it in supporting mental health in the workplace. There are excellent tools available on the market to help employees manage mental health, even on a daily basis, with some apps encouraging the user to better understand and handle their personal stress trigger points – such as coping with anxiety during busy work commutes, and learning techniques such as mindfulness to tackle it. When considering that British men are 300% more likely to confide in AI than another person about life, love and their mental wellbeing*** – apps could play an integral role in managing mental health at work.

Alcohol abuse
Despite young people appearing to buck the trend when it comes to alcohol consumption in the UK, by drinking less and fewer times in a week than the national average – a concern still remains over binge drinking, with related hospital admissions increasing 57% for young men (15-24 year olds), and by 76% for young women over a decade.**** Alcohol can exacerbate mental health issues, temporarily masking concerns with a chemically induced high – but making the subseqent recovery prolonged and complex.

There are multiple interventions employers can make here to tackle the issue of alcohol affecting the workplace, from offering alcohol-cessation programmes to providing employee assistance programmes (EAPs) – where individuals can discuss potential issues of dependence or mental health concerns confidentially. Having managers that are trained in spotting mental health issues is crucial in helping employees access the help they may need. Training gives managers the confidence to approach a potentially challenging situation, whilst providing an employee with support they could really benefit from.

Background as insight
Understanding the context in which an employee has grown up can provide useful insight into the challenges they may face and why – all of which can affect work. It’s important that employers take time to understand their workforce needs and provide appropriate support. Young people have quite specific needs, but it’s important they’re not all treated the same; support needs to be tailored according to the needs of a workforce and this can be quite different depending on the business, location and sector. Taking time to understand the needs of different generations is an important first step.

Brett Hill – Managing Director, The Health Insurance Group





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