We hear frequently that the next generation of talent expect their employers to support their mental health and wellbeing and are looking for a sense of purpose from their work. But what does this actually mean? Is this true for other generations in the workplace too?
These were the questions that we were seeking answers to through the Mad World multigenerational workforce, workplace culture and wellbeing survey.
We pushed the survey out to readers of Mad World News during the month of September. The survey was also distributed through the UK Values Alliance and to members of the Jiggsy online community.
A range of respondents answered the survey, with the bulk aged between 25 – 55.
The insights generated provide a snapshot of attitudes which could help to guide employers as they define or refine their approach to supporting workplace mental health and wellbeing.
Workplace mental health and wellbeing strategies are seen as “essential” by younger employees
The first question we asked was “How important is it to you that your employer has in place a workplace mental health and wellbeing strategy?”
By far the majority – nearly 70% of all respondents – considered this to be “essential”, with only 27% responding “quite important” and less than 3% deeming this to be “not important”.
The chart below shows how this breaks down by age and seems to confirm that younger respondents believe it is essential for their employer to have in place a workplace mental health and wellbeing strategy.
Strategies already in place
Having determined this, we wanted to get more detail. We asked “Which of the following strategies does your employer have in place to support employee mental health and wellbeing?” We offered a range of options – some more obvious than others. Responses were as follows:
25% of respondents said that their employers offered “other” strategies to support mental health and wellbeing. These included for instance:
· Flexi work for different levels of seniority and/or different projects
· CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) online programmes
· A mobile phoneline
· Sessions with a therapist
· Training for managers and a generous sick pay scheme
· A network group for employee wellbeing
· Mental health champions
· Able Futures support
· Mindful Employer signatory
· Mental health awareness training for all employees
· Employee support, staff psychology and counselling service
· Coaching support
· Mental health resilience sessions are complimentary for all employees
· Wellbeing advocates who can signpost internal and external services
· A full programme of wellbeing events each year
· Company personal training programme
66% of all respondents feel that their employer values their physical and mental health equally
The campaign hashtag for the Mad World Summit is #WeAllHaveMentalHealth. This is a message that we want everyone to understand. As spelled out in the “Thriving at Work” Stevenson Farmer Review of Mental Health and Employers: “We start from the position that the correct way to view mental health is that we all have it and we fluctuate between thriving, struggling and being ill and possibly off work”.
So, it was interesting to see that 66% of all respondents believe that their employer values their physical and mental health equally.
Older respondents are more likely to feel that their career will be compromised if they talk about their mental health in the workplace
When asked whether they felt that their career would be compromised if they talk openly about their mental health at work, responses suggest that attitudes are changing for the better. Younger employees appear to feel more at ease talking to their employer about their mental health.
The minimum workplace mental health and wellbeing support employees expect
Having gleaned that the majority of respondents think that it is essential that their employer has a mental health and wellbeing strategy in place, we wondered what they considered the minimum provision should be. The responses to this open-ended question were varied, with some common themes emerging.
Across the board, an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) was mentioned as the absolute minimum requirement. All age groups also referenced the need for an encouraging work environment, where people are able to talk openly. The need for mental and physical health to be treated with equal importance – without stigma – were stressed by all ages, as were the need for tolerance, compassion, confidentiality and for employers to genuinely care about their workforce.
The requirement for occupational health support and Mental Health First Aid training were also referenced by all age groups.
For the younger respondents aged 18-35, there was more emphasis on being treated as individuals, to recognise mental health as a real issue and to make reasonable adjustments as required.
Notable responses from this age group included: “Understanding that all employees are unique”; “Understanding of the pressures that each individual role can place upon each unique individual”; “Provision on an individual basis for whatever I or any of my colleagues need in any given situation”; “Understanding, acceptance and flexibility”.
It was interesting to see more emphasis put, by the 36-45 and 46-55 age groups, on the need for work life balance, flexible working and time off if required. This may reflect this age group’s juggling of work and caring responsibilities.
Respondents in this age group also referenced the need for a supportive and understanding line manager, support from HR, the ability to recognise when people require assistance and promotion of self-help tools.
Respondents in the 46-55 year old category highlighted the need for health insurance that covers mental health and a sick pay scheme if absence is due to mental health.
Fresh ideas from the 56-65+ year old respondents included the suggestion of a travel policy taking mental and physical wellbeing into consideration and time, when needed, to step back from intensive tasks.
The ideal workplace mental health and wellbeing strategy
Having understood the minimum that employees are looking for, we wondered what they would ideally like employers to have in place in terms of a workplace mental health and wellbeing strategy.
The key requirements across the board were a call for workplace health insurance (that covers mental health), more training for managers, clear guidelines, a structured all-inclusive framework for a strategic wellbeing policy, more resource and dedicated health and wellbeing managers.
One of the younger respondents suggested: “Surveys to understand how the team is feeling”. Another commented: “I’d like to see that during onboarding, our training is developed further to not just teach sales skills, but naturally integrate content that will set people up to thrive with practical tools to manage inherent ups and downs in a new role”.
Looking beyond induction one respondent in the 36-35 year old category suggested the need for: “Work “buddies” assigned, or maybe you nominate them yourself, not just for induction period but an ongoing basis. Someone who looks out for you and who you feel comfortable with sharing inner thoughts”
Whilst many called for a clear wellbeing strategy, one respondent stressed that: “The words ‘strategy’ and ‘mental health and wellbeing’ don’t belong in the same phrase, sorry. This is a dehumanising phrase to use for something that is a deeply human problem…Can we dump the word strategy?”
The same respondent suggested that: “Commitment, a hand on heart, code of ethics could work better. It could be pinned on the wall, for everyone to refer to, to ensure they felt cared for along their journeys in the company”.
Purpose, values and community
We also wanted to look at values and see whether there is a difference with this between generations.
98% of all respondents strongly agreed with the statement that it is very important for them to feel valued at work. 98% of respondents also strongly agreed that it is very important for them to have a sense of purpose at work.
In the same vein (although I thought the percentage would be higher), 84% of respondents said that it is essential that they trust their senior management.
75% of respondents strongly agree that it is essential to feel part of a community at work. The majority of those that only partially agreed with this statement were from the 36-45 and 46-55 age groups. However, there were also those that only partially agreed with the statement from 18 right through to 65.
How important is personalisation?
Finally, we wanted to see whether personalisation is something younger employees prioritise more than older employees. The results were interesting. Only 54% of all respondents agreed strongly that it is essential that mental health and wellbeing support is tailored to their individual needs, with the younger respondents putting more emphasis on this. 54% of the 36-55 year olds only partially agreed or disagreed with the statement.
The insights from the survey provide a useful reminder that employees will have different wellbeing needs at different life stages and that flexibility should be built into approaches to supporting mental health and wellbeing to allow for this.
Younger colleagues do seem to be more comfortable talking about mental health and wellbeing and also more in tune with the need to be recognised as individuals.
On the other hand, it appears that it is not only the younger employees who want to have a sense of purpose and feel valued at work. This imperative across generations suggests that employers should consider the role that values can play in the wellbeing agenda alongside other approaches.
Conversely, not everyone (regardless of age) needs to feel part of a community at work. The insight: create a sense of community but don’t assume everyone wants to be part of it. If community isn’t what makes these people tick, find out what is and try to meet that need too.
Alongside calls for EAPs, health insurance, occupational health and mental health first aid training, all ages of respondents clearly recognised that changes to workplace practices and cultures are key when it comes to supporting mental health and wellbeing.
There was also a clear call, across the board, for organisations to prioritise genuine care for people with demand for: more resources; established, holistic approaches; and dedicated health and wellbeing staff members.
Commenting on the survey findings, Laura Hearn, Founder of the online community Jiggsy said: “Two things stood out for me from this survey. The first being how important it is for employees of all ages to feel valued and have a sense of purpose at work. I think this is connected with how we feel in our personal lives. Having a sense of direction and feeling appreciated motivates us all, so it is no surprise that this came out as a key priority for everyone”.
“The second finding which surprised me, was that the younger respondents felt more comfortable in opening up about their mental health in the workplace. I personally worried about my own career being compromised by speaking publicly about my own recovery, so I am really glad that the next generation feel far more able to open up”.
“These kinds of insights are invaluable in continuing to understand the needs of our employees, and to help organisations position employee wellbeing and mental health as a competitive advantage”.
About the Author
Claire Farrow is the Global Director of Content and Programming for the Mad World and Make a Difference Summits. She also drives the content for Mad World News. Claire is on a mission to help every employer – large, medium and small – get the insight, inspiration and contacts they need to make real impact on workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing in their organisation. She has been freelance for more than 15 years. During that time, she has had the honour of working with many leading publishers, including the New York Times.