A mental health strategy for a young workforce

Oct 11, 2018 | Development, Diversity

This week many organisations showed support for better mental health as part of World Mental Health Day. This post from Poppy Jaman OBE, CEO of the City Mental Health Alliance offers some advice.

In the UK, mental ill health is responsible for 91 million working days lost every year, and costs employers £34.9 billion annually. Poor mental health and illness can affect anyone, but for graduates, school leavers and apprentices entering the workforce for the first time, this can be a time of real change and they are particularly vulnerable. 

For many, taking a first job in the City, can also mean moving away from home and their support network of family and friends. Research from the City Mental Health Alliance (CMHA) revealed that 49% of students admitted their mental health had declined after leaving university. So, employers can play a role in maintaining the wellbeing and mental health of their young workforce. 

Employers need to ensure they are not only engaging with potential applicants at the pre-recruitment stage about their career prospects and benefits, but that they also talk openly about the wellbeing and mental health strategy that they have to support employees. Recent experience of CMHA members has highlighted that many graduates are often attracted to applying and joining organisations that have comprehensive and supportive mental health policies.

 For those potential applicants who may already be experiencing mental health difficulties, highlighting a culture of openness within your organisation from outset will reassure this new generation of employees. Having a strong mental health strategy in place to help these individuals feel they can share their experiences from their first day can also be a valuable preventative approach in ensuring any mental health challenges are met with structured support.  

A vital part of this support comes from ensuring managers and leaders have an understanding of and are skilled in talking about mental health and wellbeing.  Research from Business in the Community shows that while 76% of line managers believe that employee wellbeing is their responsibility, only 22% have received any form of training on mental health. Continuous training and development for managers must be on the agenda for any business that wants to have a thriving workforce. 

Mental health first aid training on how to spot the early signs of mental distress or workplace training, by organisations such as the Samaritans, provide the skills to have positive, constructive mental health conversations with colleagues and is crucial for supporting young employees who are transitioning into their new work life. 

Managers also have an important role in making sure they are aware of all the resources available to enhance the working lives of their employees. Being able to signpost initiatives and services such as employee networks, employee assistance programmes and external support can also help to dispel any myths around mental health. 

Businesses need to not only help graduates feel comfortable about being open and honest about any difficulties they are facing, but ensure they have the right skills to be the mental health literate leaders of the future. The important role that employers play in tackling the mental health battle cannot be understated, as we look to create a future where graduates feel able to speak openly without fear of prejudice. By creating mentally healthy workplaces, employers have a huge opportunity to improve their employees’ quality of life, create an open culture and recruit and retain a productive, flourishing workforce.

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