How to build behaviours that ensure young people flourish at work

May 13, 2024 | Development, Home Featured, How-to, Mental health

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, Claire Libby, a health coach and founder of I am me explains how to build consistent and helpful behaviours for a flourishing future at work.

As part of my work as an integrative nutrition health coach, I work alongside young people who are either on a graduate or an apprenticeship programme.

I learn first-hand the kind of stress they are under and the impact their different lifestyles choices can have on their mental health and wellbeing. What you’re about to read stems from that experience, the research I conduct as part of my MSc in Psychology, and my career to date.

I’ll share the challenges young adults face in their lives and in the workplace and what employers can do to help.

Some unpleasant facts

Let’s look at the (hard-hitting) facts:
• Half of the teens and young adults living in the UK have experienced at least one traumatic event or adverse childhood experience (UK Trauma Council 2020)
• 50% of mental health problems are established by the age of 14.
• 75% of mental health issues are present by the age of 24.
• Despite that, 70% of young people who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate intervention at a sufficiently early age (Children’s Society)
• Work-related stress costs the UK economy 28 billion per year (Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce 2024).

What does this mean for employers?

Young people have grown up in a very different, challenging world. When they enter the workplace, they can bring deep-rooted beliefs about themselves and their capabilities.

For some, they might’ve shone brightly under the academic light, but the workplace has been something of a shock. Suddenly, the skills that have been left undeveloped at the expense of academic achievement have been found out.

Attributes like relationship building, good communication, and social presence have been found wanting. As a result, they start to question their place in this new commercial world.

How can employers best support early career talent?

Top of the list, I wholeheartedly believe that not all the responsibility sits with early career teams.

Young people need to learn what they can do to support themselves. To achieve this, they need to understand:
• What lights them up and what brings them down
• How they perceive themselves and their place in this fast-paced world
• The part they play in the long-term plans of the business they’re part of

Through my support work, I’ve helped new starters overcome a lot of issues. These can be both personal and professional. In some cases, it can feel more like a parent-child relationship, rather than employer and employee.

So, what can you do to empower young people and ease their burden?

Prevention first

Research tells us that over 50% of GP appointments can be traced back to a lifestyle choice.

Conditions like low mood, and increased anxiety can often be caused by the choices we make. Thankfully, young people are starting to be asked questions about sleep, stress management, and exercise to tease out any contributing factors to their symptoms by their GPs.

There are six main pillars that we need to consider when it comes to supporting an individual’s lifestyle medicine. These include:
• Sleep
• Nutrition
• Stress management
• Relationships
• Movement
• Headspace

If ONE of these goes out of kilter, they all do.

Imagine that you have a young person dealing with high levels of stress. That stress will impact their ability to switch off and get a decent night’s sleep, they don’t wake up feeling energised and ready for the day. That probably means an increase in caffeine and a series of bad nutritional choices.

Now, inside this tired, overly caffeinated youngster, a really (un)helpful hormone called Ghrelin goes into overdrive. Now, Ghrelin pushes our young person towards more sugary, salty foods, which ruin their ability to stay focused and be productive at work.

As they navigate the highs and lows of their sugar curve, this affects how they communicate with others. It impacts their energy levels and destroys their motivation to get outside and move.

This means that the stress they are holding onto stays with them, and so on, in a vicious cycle. Our young person isn’t thriving, they’re hanging on, they’re surviving.

How can you empower these young people?

The answer lies in education and empowerment. From the get-go (the point of attraction), let these young adults know that they’re important and your business needs them.

At the same time, make it clear that — while you’ll support them however you can — their wellbeing is THEIR responsibility.

It’s not enough for younger employees to just turn up at work. You need them to flourish. They can only do that if they value themselves enough to manage their lifestyle and make helpful decisions.

To help embed this message:
• Share information and include links to useful platforms and resources as part of your onboarding process
• Send out regular reminders in internal newsletters or messaging platforms
• Guide your younger staff members towards habits and routines that will support and not hinder them

Young people handle stress better when they add physical activity to their daily lives. Things seem more manageable when they:
A. Eat a nutritious diet
B. Limit their screen time, and
C. Prioritise their sleep and get to bed at a reasonable hour

You know, the basics.

However, as the pressures of work build, all the good stuff that keeps their brain chemistry balanced goes completely out of the window as new unhelpful habits take root.

Food for thought

Consider the culture within your business.
• Are there unwritten and unhelpful rules that have been created regarding wellbeing? E.g. work hard, play hard.
• Are you demonstrating role model behaviour when it comes to wellbeing?
• Does your company encourage proper lunch breaks (away from the desks)?
• Do you have a no-emails out-of-hours policy?
• Do you use multiple tech platforms to communicate?
• Do you have vending machines full of food options with no nutritional value?
• Do you encourage people to get up from their desks every 45 minutes and go for a short walk?
• Do you offer advice and guidance on sleep, stress management techniques, and how food impacts mood?

Be consistent

When it comes to wellbeing it doesn’t need to be complicated, but it does need to be consistent.

While awareness months and one-off wellbeing days are good reminders, it’s the consistent and helpful behaviours that matter.

If you consistently support sleep, movement, nutrition, headspace, stress management and relationships — that makes a big difference. If you achieve that, almost by osmosis you improve the wellbeing of your young people. You help them flourish both in and out of work.

By prioritising consistent and helpful behaviours that support wellbeing, you create a culture of mental and physical wellness that benefits everyone, both young and experienced (I didn’t say old).

Remember, small actions can make a big difference in improving our physical and mental health.

Finally, ask yourself, how much importance do you place on your own wellbeing?

You may also be interested in…

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Graduates prefer hybrid work but feel ‘return to office’ pressure


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