Young employees are at the greatest risk of poor mental health


The latest Britain's Healthiest Workplace study has found that younger employees face three times the risk of mental health issues than their older counterparts. With a workforce that is set to work more years than previous generations, employers need to take charge.

The World Health Organization has listed "burn-out" as a medical condition in its latest guidelines, specifically as a syndrome linked to chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

Burn-out is not a bad week or two at the office, but long-term stress that hasn't been dealt with, either by the person experiencing it or their employer. It doesn’t bode well then, that it is young workers who are most likely to suffer from poor mental wellbeing at work.

The Vitality Britain's Healthiest Workplace study, which is developed in partnership with RAND Europe and the University of Cambridge, found that employees below the age of 25 were found to have 3.5 times more incidences of depression compared to older employees (over 55) - the highest of any age group surveyed.

Guy Chennells, Head of Research and Development for Employee Benefits at Discovery said: “This is compounded in South Africa by high rates of dependency for young earners, putting major stress on fragile finances. Managing the demands of family expectations of support, peer pressure to consume and proving for ones’ own present and future is a mammoth task that young earners are thrust into entirely unprepared.”

Neville Koopowitz, CEO of VitalityHealth in the UK said in a report in The HR Director online magazine, that a third of younger employees suffer from high levels of stress, compared to 24.3 percent of older employees.

The study found that young staff are more likely to feel that they do not receive respect from colleagues, experience strained relationships at work, have a lack of clarity on duties and responsibilities – and that new entrants to the job market are the hardest hit.

Of course, it follows that the poor mental wellbeing of younger workers affects their productivity, and ultimately, the business. Young people took more than double the number of sick leave days compared to their older colleagues, according to the study. In addition, their feelings of shared-identity with their employer, were weakened, and their efforts were therefore lower.

Koopowitz, says: “It is concerning to see that young workers are particularly vulnerable to pressures in the workplace, reporting higher levels of work-related stress and depression. Not only is this having a significant impact on their mental wellbeing at work, it is also affecting the performance of businesses with young workers reporting lower levels of engagement and productivity.”

What do employees need to do?

Screening as part of an employee wellness program is the first step to addressing the broad range of health issues in the workplace. As the link between physical health and a healthy diet, with mental wellbeing is also evident, Koopowitz says a wholistic approach will help employers to attempt to address workplace mental health. In the British study, organisations did have interventions in place with positive effects and 74% of employees who participated in any given intervention felt positive effects on their health.

Upskilling younger workers is also a measure of tackling mental health. The study found mental health issues to be more common among employees who earned less. Financial wellness is also an element of the holistic approach the mental health issues were linked to employees financial concerns. These concerns also affected employees’ physical health, smoking and obesity rates negatively.

Koopowitz says “The results signify a clear need for employers to proactively engage with young workers and adopt comprehensive strategies to ensure successful on-boarding, and integration into the workforce. In addition, by prioritising and elevating employee engagement in health and wellbeing within the business, ideally to board level, firms can make a significant difference to productivity and the overall success of their business.”

Let's look at solutions

Nonkululeko Pitje, head of Healthy Company at Discovery, says" Employee wellness programs are part of the solution. Thankfully, the global workforce is changing with a similar mindset. "For Millennials, wellness is a daily, active pursuit. They're exercising more, eating smarter and smoking less than previous generations. They're using apps to track training data, and online information to find the healthiest foods."

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