Written by Rachel Scott, VP of Talent Acquisition, People & Culture, Koa Health, a digital mental healthcare provider offering personalised mental health solutions backed by science

The disruption young people have faced over the past two years has created a ticking time bomb for their mental health, with many having had their studies cut short or missed out on the traditional university experience. It’s little surprise that recent research showed happiness and confidence among 16 to 25-year-olds in the UK has plunged to a 13-year low. Many have since entered one of the toughest employment markets in history, and are bringing a unique set of requirements into the workplace. 

This is something that HR professionals must be mindful of. For example, the same study found that one-third of respondents feel they don’t know how to make new friends, and 35% said they’ve never felt more alone. It’s already been reported that the average worker now experiences career burnout by the age of 32, and young professionals are twice as likely to suffer from depression than their older colleagues.

Anyone should be saddened by these statistics – and as HR professionals we must ensure that the mental wellbeing of young professionals is supported. Employers are uniquely placed to help improve mental health and change this worrying narrative. Further, this demographic will go on to be future leaders and senior managers, as well as filling many business-critical roles.

Make no mistake – many HR teams are already doing a valiant job addressing the mental health issues of their workforces. Young people need more however and are prioritising jobs which offer mental healthcare packages. Here’s how HR professionals can help:

Creating a supportive company culture

There are a range of ways HR professionals can optimise company culture to improve the mental health of their younger workers. Firstly, dedicated time and space must be given for young workers to socialise. In the era of remote or hybrid working, face-to-face contact and ‘water cooler moments’ have fallen by the way-side, which are crucial to building and nurturing networks and personal relationships. Ensure that the team are encouraged to take regular breaks, encourage virtual coffees where needed, and – if possible – create groups on collaboration and instant messaging platforms where people can discuss shared interests. This will help to reduce the loneliness that many young people are feeling.

Secondly, HR professionals must continue to open up communication channels. 87% of workers are afraid that stress could impact their ability to do their job in future, but just 25% believe their company provides the necessary support for dealing with poor mental wellbeing. Support for young workers can often start with a conversation. By encouraging them to open up and talk about their mental wellbeing, a vital coping mechanism and support network is created. 

Directly addressing the mental health impact

It should be noted that creating a supportive company culture, however, will only go so far in improving mental health. To tackle this crisis among young workers, HR professionals must give young workers the tools and solutions they need to manage their mental health and wellbeing.

This can be done by offering comprehensive, continuous care solutions right across the mental health continuum. By ensuring that young workers have the support and help they need when they need it, HR can promote better health and wellbeing that will help people in their work and home lives.

HR professionals are increasingly turning to a range of effective workplace mental health programmes that are convenient and easy to access through digital channels, such as smartphone apps. Studies are clear that employees are willing to use technology-based interventions, with more than 7 in 10 people open to technology-enabled care. Young people, in particular, are digitally savvy, with one survey showing that 100% of Gen Z, a generation who have grown up fully immersed in the digital world, use mobile phones.

In addition to being easier to access and typically more economical than in-person care, this type of support also empowers young workers to become more proactive about their mental health, with access to mental wellbeing tools they can use exactly when (and where) they need them.

It’s not just the pandemic that has led to this ticking mental health timebomb among young workers. Many are increasingly anxious about other factors including climate change and the cost of living crisis. Doing nothing to help alleviate this stress and anxiety will have a long-term damaging effect on employee wellbeing, morale, presenteeism and, ultimately, individual as well as business performance.

It’s key that businesses recognise the important role they play in improving mental health and cushioning the array of strains that young people are faced with. HR and business leaders can help address this mental health crisis through a comprehensive care approach delivered via technology solutions. This is the best way to mitigate a looming mental health crisis and create workforces and businesses that are able to thrive.