Supporting mental health across generations in the workplace

Lizzie Buxton

Written By Emily Bennett, HR Technical Consultant

31st January 2024

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Supporting mental health across generations in the workplace

A recent article by People Management magazine highlighted the findings from Vitality’s latest Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey. It found that individuals under 30 experience productivity loss of 59.7 days annually due to health issues, equating to over a day per week.

Gen Z employees face a 64% higher loss of productivity days compared to their counterparts over 50, who average 36.3 days of productivity loss per year due to health concerns.

What do Gen Z struggle with the most?

It is eye opening to see the marked difference in productivity and mental health challenges among generations and it’s crucial for people leaders to consider the diversity of experiences across them. Different generations often have varied life experiences, shaped by historical events, economic cycles and cultural shifts.

The new generation is often described as more concerned with social justice, and as such, may be more deeply affected by external factors such as the cost of living crisis, job market uncertainties, geopolitical events, and economic uncertainty.

These experiences can influence individual resilience, coping mechanisms and responses to workplace stressors, so it is perhaps not surprising that there are marked differences in how employees respond to stress.  

How different generations view mental health?

It is crucial not to reinforce generational stereotype bias and label the current generation of workers as lazy or use the ‘snowflake’ slur.

Societal attitudes toward mental health have undergone a positive shift in recent years, with the past decade witnessing a cultural change that is helping to remove the stigma surrounding discussions on mental health.

Younger generations can be more open to addressing mental health issues, leading to higher reported rates. This shift has allowed for people to become better advocates for themselves and speaking up for what they need, which sometimes is a break from work. Whereas older generations might have faced stigma or hesitancy to disclose their mental health challenges.

Managers and leaders setting people strategies need to be mindful of this and ensure that policies and manager training provide equitable support for employees.  

How can workplaces support mental health?

To continue the positive conversations around mental health, it’s important that emotional connections are built between managers and direct reports as a fundamental step in creating a supportive working environment. This connection allows managers to better understand the unique challenges their team members may be facing, including signs of burnout, mental health concerns or feelings of overwhelm.

Proactive recognition and intervention regarding these signs are crucial for workforce well-being and productivity, ultimately resulting in reduced sickness absence.

Support initiatives, such as having mental health first aiders, can significantly contribute to creating a workplace culture that prioritises mental health and outwardly demonstrates to all employees that the business recognises the impact external stresses can have on their work.

Mental Health First Aiders are trained to recognise the signs of mental health issues, provide initial support and guide employees to appropriate resources. Their presence helps reduce stigma and encourages open conversations about mental health in the workplace, which should lead to a positive impact. 

We have witnessed huge productivity and wellbeing improvements from a proactive approach to managing short- and long-term sickness absences as it can help to speed up a return to work in a positive manner, but this requires a combination of emotional connection and manager empowerment, through training, policies and easy access to support, to create an environment where employees feel valued, supported and comfortable discussing their well-being.

This approach not only benefits individual employees but also contributes to the overall resilience and productivity of the organisation as a whole. 

To discuss how we can help your organisation enhance mental health support, contact us today.

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