How millennials are showing the way on wellbeing

Kate Cooper
Head of Research, Policy and Standards
Institute of Leadership and Management
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In an era of initiatives such as Time to Change, my organisation’s Mind Culture report and William and Harry’s Heads Together campaign, mental health is at the forefront of the corporate agenda.

These issues are being talked about now in ways that were inconceivable just 20 years ago.

Millennials are entering the workforce at a time when staff are having Time to Talk days, and are wearing ribbons that signify they’re happy to have a conversation with someone who’s struggling – whether that’s with stress, anxiety or depression.

As a result, their expectations that it’s okay to discuss difficult issues at work are bound to be that much higher than they are for older generations.

Unique pressures?

That was strongly reflected in a recent study by HR solutions provider Willis Towers Watson (WTW). In a poll of more than 2,800 UK workers, WTW found that millennials are twice as susceptible to stress as their baby-boomer counterparts.

Some 61% of them experience high or above-average stress, compared to 33% in the boomer category.

Other findings, though, show that millennials are far more likely to open up about their anxieties: 48% said that they would ask for support from family, friends or colleagues in stressful times – compared to 32% of generation-X workers and 21% of boomers.

More than a quarter of millennials would ask for their manager’s help, compared to 18% of gen-Xers and just 6% of boomers.

And 41% of millennials would happily seek external support from a trained stress specialist – while only 33% of gen-Xers and 28% of boomers would be prepared to take that path.

According to WTW wellbeing lead Mike Blake, millennials face “unique pressures”: modern technology makes it harder for them to escape work pressures and they have been shown to strive for perfection more than previous generations.

But are millennials in fact highlighting far more universal issues?

Unmet needs

I have attended many seminars and conferences and read a lot of reports focusing on millennials and their particular needs. But in the Untapped Talent report that the Institute issued three years ago, we found that age was almost a red herring.

Our research uncovered unmet needs right across the workplace. The only difference, we found, is that younger generations are more willing to articulate them.

The various enhancements that younger workers are demanding – for example, recognition, praise, variety and flexible working – don’t really sound like things that will only suit people born after 1982. They have far wider appeal than that.

One recurring stereotype of millennials is that they have been showered with positive reinforcement, so they’ve impressive track records of achievements en route to finding work with prestigious employers – but by the time they reach that stage, they’ve had little experience of failure. As such, they don’t know how to bounce back when things go wrong.

That was one difference we did find between the generations. Over 50s are more able to manage their emotions, but developing that ability is really helped by experience 

It’s not about whether you’re 28 or 48. It’s about whether your organisation’s culture recognises that it’s okay to fail, and to bring your mental health worries to work.

It’s about whether your managers grasp the importance of building resilience, and understand their role in contributing to stress and anxiety at work.

So, listen to the concerns that millennials are articulating and take them seriously. While they may seem to be speaking for themselves, they’re in fact speaking for everyone.

About Kate Cooper

About Kate Cooper

Prior to joining The Institute of Leadership & Management Kate Cooper worked in the university sector. She has appeared on, amongst others, BBC Television, BBC Radio 4 and has a regular column in Dialogue magazine. She is a key note speaker at conferences and provides expert commentary on a range of topics arising from the Institute’s research agenda. 

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