Wellbeing | What does good mental health support for Generation Z look like?

What does good mental health support for Generation Z look like?

By Tracey Ward, Head of Business Development & Marketing at Generali UK Employee Benefits

Levels of stress, anxiety and burnout do not seem to be improving for Generation Z (under 26-year olds), according to research. With ever-increasing pressure on NHS services, and private options being out of reach for most – cost of living crisis or not – we investigate the employer’s role; in terms of prevention as well as early intervention. We discuss the kind of issues facing Generation Z and ask how employer support might evolve to meet needs.*

Research shows that mental health support in the workplace is deemed a more important topic for young people than climate change, job security and economic inequality. In other words, mental health is a vital consideration in recruitment and retention.

Against this backdrop, however, almost 3 in 10 line managers are unaware of National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) mental health guidelines, according to research by our early intervention partner Working To Wellbeing. These guidelines were introduced in 2021 to help evolve thinking on workplace mental health support, making it clear that the organisation has a foundational role to play. This is about focusing on organisational aspects – such as culture and management practices – as well as interventions and benefits.

We recently spoke with two early intervention experts to help gain a better understanding of the stresses and strains facing Generation Z, following their experience of working with clients. And we asked, what does good workplace mental health support look like. Here are a few highlights from that discussion.

Issues facing Generation Z

Kay Needle, Early Intervention & Rehabilitation Expert, Generali UK Employee Benefits: There might be a tendency by the older generation to think that 18-26 year olds shouldn’t have a care in the world, because they’re not usually balancing a mortgage, childcare, marriage and work. But there are different types of issues affecting young adults. These are people who left school or university in the context of the pandemic. They’ve experienced social isolation and we all know how important social connections are to our health and identity at that age, in particular.

Of course, there’s the cost of living crisis too. And this cohort are typically lower earners in the workforce. They’re probably struggling with housing insecurity. Also, hybrid working, especially if they’re working from their parent’s home, a house-share or bedsit. Hybrid working represents a huge positive for many people, but the potential downsides cannot be ignored.

Through work with clients, the kind of problems I’m seeing from employees in this age group tends to be what I would call a generalised anxiety. When we get people referred to us for stress in their slightly older years, they can typically identify the cause. For example, they might be going through a divorce. Whereas the younger cohort are generally saying, look I just feel stressed and on edge, anxious and nervous and I don’t actually know why. That is much more challenging to tackle.

Dr Julie Denning, Chartered Health Psychologist and Managing Director of Working To Wellbeing: Yes, it is much more challenging to tackle, because where do you start for support. We all know that NHS mental health services are underfunded and always have been. Now even more so. The services need to expand but it just feels like the most enormous squash and a squeeze. There are huge backlogs for people in some areas of the UK via this route.

If you want to go privately, it’s not easy there either because waiting lists are growing. Then there’s the cost, obviously, which is probably out of reach for many of the younger generation.

On top of all that is the problem of trying to understand whether we’re talking about clinical levels of anxiety or depression. Or is it an increased reporting of mood and emotional experience? Is it a heightened response to what we’re going through as a population – in terms of the cost of living crisis and other stressors – or is it actually something very specific?

What’s the employer’s responsibility?

Kay: One of the things that concerns me, as someone who uses social media, is how much misinformation I see out there. If we’ve got people who are struggling and they aren’t able to get support from appropriate resources, what’s left is self-research and potential exposure to misinformation.

Against this backdrop, a supportive employer can be extremely valuable. I think it often rests on the line manager, recognising the signs that someone is struggling. But the next step, after recognising those signs, is to have the appropriate resources to signpost to. The care package must be in place. So, the line manager can say, well you know the NHS waiting list for mental health support can be anywhere between 2 weeks to 22 weeks, depending on where in the UK you live. So, why not use the Employee Assistance Programme, or even a more comprehensive counselling service; totally confidential and at no cost, via our benefits programme. Wherever this is in place, of course.

Julie: What bothers me is that this problem isn’t going away. Even pre Covid-19, there was a huge amount of talk about how depression was going to be the next pandemic. There have been lots of attempts to try to solve the problem. And recently there’s been new research into the efficacy of Mental Health First Aiders. That’s an issue that’s been rumbling on for a long time. There was a time when Mental Health First Aiders were effectively seen by employers as the silver bullet. But how useful are they? Who’s using them? And how are they being used? I’ve read that some Mental Health First Aiders are providing interventions. They definitely shouldn’t be doing that. The only intervention they should be involved in, is signposting. Sometimes, the solutions already out there feel counterproductive.

Kay: This comes back to the need to have the care package in place, so Mental Health First Aiders have something to signpost to. First aid is something you do while you’re waiting for the ambulance. It’s about providing care – listening and signposting – not providing treatment. The same goes for line managers.

Support for the line managers

Kay: I think a line manager toolkit is a really valuable resource. This could be as simple as a document; something they can refer back to.

Julie: Wellbeing Action Plans provide a great line manager resource. This is something we would help with as a vocational rehabilitation specialist.

Kay: Yes, Wellbeing Action Plans are a fantastic line manager tool. They are so often seen as a tool to support the employee only, but they can also give a lot of confidence to the line manager; even just simple things like the language that you’re using. I think people are all too often afraid to have conversations on mental health because they’re scared of saying the wrong thing. They worry they’re going to cause offence and upset the individual. A wellbeing action plan can help with this and more. It’s about active listening; ensuring employees feel heard.

*This article features some of the highlights from a podcast by Generali UK Employee Benefits. To listen to the full podcast, please download episode 10 here.

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All information contained herein represents the views and opinions of the authors as at the date of writing and is provided for general information only. Nothing herein constitutes or is intended to constitute financial or other form of advice and no individual should rely upon the information provided in making a specific investment decision without first seeking independent professional advice.

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