This year, Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May) is shining a spotlight on stress. In the UK, one in six adults experience depression, anxiety or issues relating to stress at any one time. MHFA England has partnered with the Mental Health Foundation to launch new research that looks at stress in the workplace.
Our research found that just under a quarter of people (23%) say they compromise their health to do their job and 28% of people have been less productive at work due to stress. So there’s clearly a real need for employers to address the issue.
In particular, the findings highlight a mental health generation gap in our workplaces, with millenials more likely to be negatively affected by stress than older generations. Helping younger employees to understand and effectively manage stress will ensure they enjoy happy, healthy lives at the same time as helping businesses of all sectors and industries remain future fit.
Here, we consider how leaders can help millennials address workplace stress.
1. Embed healthy habits early
With a desire to impress, many millennials take on too much too soon and can quickly adopt unhealthy and unsustainable working habits such as arriving early, leaving late and working through lunch.
An ‘always on’ working culture can also cause millenials to feel pressured to constantly check and respond to emails outside of office hours.
It’s clear that millennials are feeling the pressure at work, as over a quarter (28%) say that powering through stress at work is expected, versus only 12% of baby boomers. Over a quarter of millennials (27%) also report feeling bothered by their stress levels during the working week as opposed to just 17% of baby boomers.
Managers and those at the top have a responsibility to ensure that millenials recognise and understand the importance of healthy working practices. Leaders need to reinforce the importance of taking time to switch off and establishing sustainable working routines that incorporate plenty of breaks, exercise and a healthy, balanced diet.
Leaders can also help to embed these habits by acting as role models - even small things such as leaving on time and eating away from desks can make a big impression on younger employees.
2. Highlight the importance of conversation
Because many millenials see high stress as the norm, they can often be reluctant to discuss the issue, or unaware of the importance of doing so. However, bottling up stress and pretending that everything’s okay can often lead to more serious, long-term problems.
Talking is one of the most effective ways of relieving feelings of stress.
Managers must ensure that young people entering the workforce for the first time have structured, regular support to help them discuss and share any worries or concerns. Talking is one of the most effective ways of relieving feelings of stress, but this research shows that there’s a clear lack of conversation happening right now.
Across both generations, only 14% are comfortable speaking to a manager about stress. So while there has been great progress in awareness around mental health issues at work, clearly there is more work to do to translate increased awareness into action. Leaders must ensure that mental health is recognised as an organisational priority, and that this is put into practice across the business as a whole.
3. Address your stress
Ensuring that young people understand what stress is and what its effects are is key to encouraging each employee to reflect on his or her own stress levels, working out what their symptoms are and how they can deal with stress effectively.
It’s important that young employees realise that stress is a normal part of life, but that too much too often can make us both physically and mentally unwell.
Managers responsible for overseeing the professional development of millenials and younger workers also need to feel empowered to broach the topic if they feel stress might be impacting their mental health.
We urge leaders of organisations of all sizes, and across all sectors, to act now and take proactive steps towards creating a mentally healthy organisation.
For both groups, tackling stress in the workplace starts with being able to have a conversation, and in a mentally healthy organisation everyone should feel comfortable with talking about stress.
This is why, for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, MHFA England has launched the ‘Address Your Stress’ toolkit, a free practical resource to help employers and employees identify the sources and signs of stress and take steps to help reduce the impact.
This Mental Health Awareness Week, we urge leaders of organisations of all sizes, and across all sectors, to act now and take proactive steps towards creating a mentally healthy organisation. Download the ‘Address Your Stress’ toolkit to support Mental Health Awareness Week.