A new career is full of possibilities, but with these opportunities come challenges. The transition into the world of work can feel overwhelming at the best of times, and the current workplace dynamic has added challenges that hit young employees particularly hard.
Remote and hybrid work arrangements offer employees flexibility and independence, but the lack of face-to-face engagement with coworkers can leave young employees in particular feeling isolated, while making it more difficult to establish personal and professional connections that can increase work satisfaction and stimulate career growth.
The isolating impact of remote work can breed depression, anxiety, and stress, with nearly half of young professionals reporting that their work environment has taken a negative toll on their mental health over the past year. Ultimately, this isolation is spilling over into job performance with 55% of 18- to 34-year-old employees who have the option to work fully remote saying that mental health issues made it harder to do their job, and 70% reporting feeling left out of the workplace.
Four Ways to Support Younger Workers
The current work environment creates unique challenges for employers as they look for ways to support younger staff members. Many Gen Z professionals want a company culture built on mental health and wellness, but just 41% of employees say there are adequate resources at their organization to support mental wellbeing, according to the Mary Christie Institute. Human resource teams that recognize and address this disconnect can differentiate themselves in their efforts to attract and retain employees. These four tips can help employers offer the support that matters to employees.
1. Create a safe zone for mental wellbeing: Conversations about mental health are becoming more common in the workplace, but there is still a stigma that prevents many workers from seeking help. By fostering an open dialogue about mental health, employers can create a culture that supports employees of all ages. This is particularly important for Gen Z employees, who report the least positive life outlook of any age group.
Building an open and supportive culture requires employers to cultivate conversations around mental health and wellbeing. Consider using internal communications to share personal mental health stories of employees and empower managers and executives to talk about their personal mental health experiences. Encourage employees to check in with their colleagues, or designate spaces or times where team members can have discussions about mental health and acknowledge when they need a mindfulness break. Doing so will normalize conversations about mental health and demonstrate to struggling employees that they’re not alone in facing these challenges.
Another effective way to support mental wellbeing is by increasing access to mental health resources. More than a third of employees report they don’t seek mental health help because they don’t know what kind of help to seek or which type of help would be most effective for their symptoms. Lack of access to mental health resources can also be a major barrier. According to AAMC.org, an estimated 150 million Americans currently live in federally designated mental health professional shortage areas, and 80% of rural counties do not have a single psychiatrist. Even in urban areas, initial evaluation wait times can last 25 days, a deterrent to those who need urgent help, Psychology Today found.
Fortunately, virtual care has increased access to mental health resources and helped reduce the stigma around seeing a therapist. As a result, 77% of individuals say they’ll incorporate virtual screenings into their health services in the future.
Virtual options can also make it easier for employees to fit care into their busy schedules. This is crucial for caregivers, as 31% of Americans say they had to pay for child or elder adult care in order to attend in-person mental health sessions for themselves, according to Very Well Mind.
2. Promote physical activity as an outlet: Even more than their older coworkers, young professionals emphasize fitness as a crucial element of their daily lives. Employers that engage younger team members with relevant ideas and activities will be more successful in building a culture of health and wellness.
For example, research suggests Gen Z is much more likely than the general population to incorporate jogging into their fitness routines and is more receptive to broader health and wellness strategies, such as yoga or Pilates. Starting a running group or a weekly yoga class may help employees improve their fitness while easing feelings of isolation. Team sports, such as an office softball or basketball team, are another great way to build bonds and social connections while improving workforce health.
Many younger professionals also use technology to support their fitness routines. Try virtual classes as a way to get the blood pumping without disrupting busy schedules. Alternatively, consider wearable trackers and activity bands as gifts or rewards to demonstrate your organization’s commitment to health and well-being.
3. Make time for teambuilding. Struggling to build connections in the workplace may increase feelings of isolation or loneliness among young employees, and those challenges only increase when coworkers aren’t regularly in the office together. These feelings can harm an organization’s culture and make employees more likely to change jobs. Consider that more than half of employees who left their jobs in the last 6 months said they didn’t feel valued by their organization, and 56% of employees who left their job during the Great Resignation did so primarily because they felt disrespected at work.
Create opportunities for your workforce to come together. Whether it’s the entire organization or members of a team or department, try to get employees together in a comfortable setting away from work. Making it easy for employees with similar interests to connect and build real, lasting friendships should be a top employer priority, as 70% of employees say this is the most important ingredient to a happy work life. Meanwhile, having a sense of friendship and belonging leads to a 56% increase in job performance and a 75% reduction in employee sick days, and the positive health impacts go well beyond the 9 to 5.
4. Nurture growth through networking. Young employees may have difficulty networking while working remotely. Employers can help by connecting them to resources such as local or industry organizations that host networking events where they can cultivate relationships with other professionals. In addition, employers can direct employees to professional development courses or create networking and mentoring opportunities within their own organization. Not only will this bring value to an organization as employees refine their skills, but it will also instill confidence in employees of all ages. This is particularly important for young professionals because as many as 82% report feeling like an impostor in the early stages of their careers.
Mentorship opportunities are another great way for young employees to build their network and grow professionally. You can identify local mentorship organizations or build a formal mentorship program within your organization. Doing so will help younger employees nurture relationships with coworkers and give them a role model in the workplace.
Remote and hybrid work may make it more difficult to engage employees, but providing younger employees with a diverse set of tools and resources will help them grow in their professional lives and can generate loyalty to your organization. By helping employees become engaged and present in their work, HR teams can create a healthy environment that workers want to be a part of for the long haul.
Amy Antonacci is vice president of client services at LifeSpeak Inc., (TSX: LSPK), the leading whole-person wellbeing solution for employers, health plans, and other organizations. LifeSpeak Inc. has more than 30 years of collective experience working with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, insurance providers, and others across the globe.