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  • Writer's pictureSara Broadhurst

Mental health for young people at work: A business imperative


Gumboot Friday is on November the 3rd and it's a good reminder we need to support our young people in the workplace. According to the World Health Organization, one in six young people aged 10-19 years old experience a mental health condition. In Aotearoa New Zealand, research has estimated that 50-80% of people will experience mental health challenges in their lifetime. Mental distress is real in our workplaces.

We all have a responsibility to look out for and look after each other work. If you're a people leader, Gumboot Friday also reminds us that we need to adapt our style to each individual in our team. If you have younger employees, are you doing the following four things?

  1. Refresh yourself on the signs and symptoms of mental health challenges: This can help you to identify employees who may be struggling and offer them support. Hato Hone St John provide great training for growing your knowledge.

  2. Be supportive and understanding: Let your employees know that it is okay to talk about their mental health and that you are there to support them.

  3. Ask what would make a difference: Sometimes people don't know the answer to that, but just the fact that you are asking (and obviously take action if they do have suggestions) is an important demonstration that you can be trusted

  4. Get support: Talk to people in your human resources, health and safety or EAP provider for ideas and support for you too. Helping others with mental distress can be challenging so make sure you look after yourself as well.

Two simple actions that can really help:

  1. Encourage employees to take breaks: It is important for employees to take breaks throughout the day to avoid burnout.

  2. Provide opportunities for social interaction: This can help young employees to feel connected to their colleagues and reduce feelings of isolation.

Here are some practical things that companies can do to support the mental health of their young employees:

  1. Talk to them It's pretty surprising but often companies don't do the simplest thing which is to ask their people what's going on and how to fix it. I'm not talking about an engagement survey here, we've all had enough of those. Instead, trying having senior members of your business actually sit in a room with a group of younger employees and ask them what's going on. I promise you they will have the answers. Gumboot Friday might be a good day to do that...

We can also suggest the following, but honestly, if you do the bullet point above, you don't need to read any further.

  • Create a workplace culture that promotes mental health: This means destigmatizing mental health issues and encouraging employees to talk about their mental health. It also means providing employees with access to mental health resources and support.

  • Offer flexible work arrangements: This can help young employees to balance their work and personal commitments and reduce stress.

  • Provide training on mental health: This can help young employees to identify and manage mental health challenges.

  • Promote employee well-being: This can include offering employee assistance programs, wellness programs, and social activities.

Gumboot Friday reminds us that our younger colleagues may have some particular challenges and may be struggling with mental distress while trying to pretend that everything is all good. There are a number of factors that can contribute to mental health challenges for young people in particular at work, including:

  • Work-related stress: Like everyone else, young people may be under pressure to meet deadlines, perform well, and prove themselves to their colleagues and managers but maybe without the support or seasoning to push back back or ask for help. In addition, they may be adjusting to the workplace and the idiosyncracies that happen there.

  • Life balance: Young people are often juggling multiple jobs or commitments, which can make it difficult to maintain a healthy life balance.

  • Financial insecurity: Young people may be struggling to make ends meet, which can cause financial stress and anxiety.

  • Social isolation: Young people may feel isolated from their colleagues, especially if they are new to the workplace, have moved towns for their new job, their workplace has few other people who are like them or they are working remotely.

What do you think? Are there things you've seen your workplace do that make a real difference for the wellbeing of our younger colleagues?

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