Mental health issues amongst children and young adults have risen significantly in recent years. Whether this is due to the erosion of stigma surrounding the subject (and reporting it) or whether social, economic or technological concerns are to blame is a matter of some debate. Regardless of the causes of this rise, mental health is an issue which needs to be treated and addressed seriously, and more than ever needs to be addressed in the workplace. After all, work takes up a huge amount of our time, so to feel mentally unwell at work means feeling unwell in all other aspects of our lives. The issue needs to be treated sensitively and effectively, for the good of employers and employees alike.
Why Are Young People at Risk?
Millennials are set to make up over 50% of the workforce by the middle of next year, and they are the age group most likely to be affected by mental health issues with regard to work. A large part of this is due to the changing nature of our economies – the baby boomer generation could expect a job for life – whereas those entering the workforce face a greater degree of fluidity. This can be empowering but it also leads to a larger degree of uncertainty about the future, financial worries and a breakdown of life/work balance as workers push themselves towards burnout through
Positive Working Culture
For most people, how they feel at work has a large and obvious knock-on effect on how they feel outside it, so it’s vital to provide a positive and stress-free working environment. It’s a fact of modern life that we spend more time at work than outside it, so fostering a workspace where communication up and down the chain of command is open and positive is crucial to staff wellbeing. Feeling like you can contribute without judgment or fear of reprisals, and being able to openly discuss your issues with your management or your peers means for more settled, productive work time. The overall vibe of a workspace has a huge impact on the people working there, so it should be relaxed, open and communal. Fear of taking days off sick for mental or physical health issues should be eradicated, and young people should be encouraged to look after their physical and mental wellbeing, rather than putting on a brave face.
Can Technology Help?
Rapidly developing technology (and specifically the ubiquity of social media) has been singled out as a contributor to anxiety and depression in young people. But technology can also be of benefit to our mental health in the workplace. Innovations in employee counselling, such as the implementation of AI is encouraging more people to open up about their issues, however, resistance to the new approach is present. Apps and other tech is available to help identify and tackle stress and anxiety triggers, encouraging the use of mindfulness, CBT or counselling to help. Workers should be informed about the overuse of technology, when to switch off from it and relax, and taught wellbeing or meditation techniques.
Although remote work is on the rise, much of our workforce spend their days in an office. An office can be a great place to work, or it can be a terrible drain on our energy, a contributor to stress or worse, depression, depending on how it is designed, laid out and managed. Natural light is a commodity that has often been overlooked in office design over the years, but its positive impact on employees is now proven beyond doubt. Open-plan offices, with different zones to take breaks from desk work and relax and interact with other employees are also rising in popularity. Many offices are now highly focused on employee wellbeing, with games areas or communal spaces such as meeting rooms using natural light, plants and sofas – these break up the day and reduce stress levels. Thought is given to the kind of food on offer in canteens and cafeterias, with healthy options available. All this adds up to less anxious and stressed employees.
Practical Solutions for Young People
As mentioned above, financial and performance worries are rife amongst younger workers. Obviously, better pay and permanent contracts are a step in the right direction. The eradication of stigma over taking sick days or vacations is of great help – the idea that taking time off will negatively impact your reputation at work is a serious anxiety trigger amongst young workers. Recognition and reward for good work alongside a strong, sensitive support network for anyone suffering from mental health issues are two other key focal points.
It’s testament to increased awareness, education and training that mental health issues are being addressed more effectively in many workplaces. More needs to be done surrounding the issue, especially with regard to young people who are just starting their careers, but simple, informed and stigma-free changes to attitudes and physical space can make a huge difference to the wellbeing of our workforce.
Bethany Seton is a recent economics graduate, working for the last two years as a community counselor. Before settling in an office again, she decided to follow her passion for writing and traveling. Currently, she travels with her laptop and writes for various blogs, hoping one day she will gather all the experience she gets in one book.
Feature Image source: Pixabay