Younger employees tell us what they hate about your wellbeing strategies

young employees at work

Younger generations are struggling more than older ones, in terms of mental health, in this brave new world of wellbeing and hybrid working.

As Chris Tomkins, head of wellbeing at AXA Health, told us on publication of its new research on mind health, we have this idea that younger people coming through the ranks are dynamic, confident and “ready to take on the world”. However, the reality outlined in the research shows that, actually, they lack self-worth, are plagued by the uncertainty of the world and are actually less resilient to change.

Are your wellbeing strategies resonating?

This begs the question: are your wellbeing messages resonating with these younger employees, who really need to hear them the most?

We decided to ask them for this feature.

Our handful of millennials and Gen Z-ers didn’t hold back. Prepare to hear 7 truth bombs.

We’ve listed their feedback in order of importance, measured by how many mentioned (unprompted) the topic.

TRUTH BOMB #1: We love that conversations about mental health are opening up. But they must open more, and smash more taboos

While our interviewees celebrated the progress made on this front, they agreed that wellbeing leaders need to be braver, and push the conversation boundaries further.

Kitty Alice is a former high-performance coach for GB Paralympians and founder of Counterpoise Wellness. As well as being in the relevant age category, like all our quoted experts here, she also works with many young employees too. She says:

“There are more conversations around anxiety, depression, menopause and parenthood – all of which are BRILLIANT – but we still need more of this. Things like miscarriage, grief, divorce, financial stress, fatigue, eating disorders… are still being hidden under a blanket of mental health conversations. We tend not to talk about these things as openly, which can be really damaging. I’d love to see these spoken about more freely.”

Valentina Hynes is a mental health and wellbeing speaker and trainer. She set up  SVH Inc. (which stands for Strong Vibrant Happy) after her husband suffered a heart attack, triggered by worked related stress and anxiety. She says:

“Beyond periods, endometriosis and adenomyosis, I think financial wellbeing, domestic abuse, relationships, anxiety and depression, etc,  should all be on the topic board more.”

Zaynab Sohawon is a multi-award winning youth mental health lived experience practitioner, author and speaker. She is chief executive of Emotion Dysregulation in Autism, as well as a peer researcher, researching mental health inequalities, at the University of Birmingham.

“Severe and enduring mental illness is rarely talked about and still remains stigmatised.”

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Marlien Ligtenberg is a trainer and coach who specialises in developing young employee talent and the multigenerational workforce. Her mission is to reduce stress and burn-out in the millennial generation.

“When the pressure is on, like a big deadline, it’s sometimes hard for a leader to also consider my wellbeing. I get that. I would love to see more open and transparent conversations about the challenge to balance business goals with wellbeing.”

Lizzie Benton is a company culture coach and founder of Liberty Mind UK says:

“I want to see more conversations addressing the fact that ‘how we work’ is making people unwell. The system of work itself is broken, but instead companies keep trying to compensate by providing silly perks that don’t actually make a difference.  We need to talk about the lack of autonomy, outdated mindsets, guilt about rest and crippling workplace bureaucracy.”

Suzanne Samaka is a youth mental health campaigner, as well as vice president, cash management specialist, at Barclays Corporate Banking. She says:

“When talking about female health [such as periods, fertility and menopause]  we also need to show that women are actually the epitome of productivity… the fact we are productive despite these challenges is amazing and should be celebrated.”

TRUTH BOMB #2: Stop banging on about your silly perks and change your systems and structures

Alice says:

“It can feel as though wellbeing agendas are a tick box exercise within companies, which feels so backwards.  Does free fruit on a Wednesday actually help employees with anxiety and lack of motivation? Probably not. Take time to look at your team, chat with you team, observe and then source appropriate support.”

Hynes says:

“Many organisations are talking the talk and not walking the walk. With the rising cost of living, what gets cut first? Wellbeing initiatives. Improving the wellbeing of staff should be embedded in every policy and process, and reviewed and updated every year.”

Samaka says:

“Wellbeing days/weeks just don’t work. Wellbeing should not be a tick box and therefore we need to move away from time specific language.”

Benton says:

“Stop chasing quick fixes. Address the real problems like poor pay. Stop pretending you care with useless initiatives.”

TRUTH BOMB #3: Stop irritating us with your poor word choice and self-help slop  

Hynes says:

“I like factual language. I do not like language that comes across as self-helpy or pandering to public opinion.”

Benton says:

“The language used by leaders and management often suggests that teams are struggling with their wellbeing because they’re not ‘resilient enough’… as if employees’ poor wellbeing is a fault in their character, rather than a symptom of toxic workplaces. Unfortunately, this attitude has only been reinforced from the awful term of the ‘snowflake’, used to describe the resilience of Gen Z.”

Toni Finnimore, is founder of The Social Society which goes by the strapline of ‘helping businesses unleash their workforce superheroes’. She says:

“People whatever age see through bullshit. Use clear factual non wishy-washy language that highlights exactly what it is you are trying to address/discuss without the jargon, lingo or ambiguity.”

TRUTH BOMB #4: Don’t treat us like one-size-fits-all; personalise our wellbeing

Samaka says:

“I want to see more discussion with each employee and how it works for them. For example, one individual it may be making sure they get out for a walk every day for 30 minutes.”

Finnimore says:

“What suits you varies hugely from what suits the next. Well-being initiatives should be bespoke to the individual and not lumped into another framework.”

(The idea of the need for personalisation was talked about in this webinar by Professor Amanda Kirby, specifically in relation to how companies should, in her opinion, not bring back fixed days when employees should work in the office)

TRUTH BOMB #5: Leaders must not be hypocrites, or leave it to HR

Ligtenberg says:

“When a leader is super open about his/her struggles and learnings, that really resonates with me. All the initiatives for wellbeing don’t really mean anything if the culture in the organisation is still not practicing what they preach.”

Benton says:

“Few HR leaders have the power to make any significant change to the way the business operates. Ultimately, wellbeing is the responsibility of leaders. Until you change the leaders at the top, nothing will change within the business, and that includes employee wellbeing.”

TRUTH BOMB #6: you have a responsibility to be a force for good in your community

Finnimore says:

“I would like to see organisations support communities through meaningful, long-term community giving initiatives. By responding to the needs of communities locally, you are in turn supporting employees who need to access services and improve their own health and well-being.”

(The idea of companies having more of a role in their communities was touched on in this webinar by Christian Gallagher, head of human resources, The Royal Ballet School)

TRUTH BOMB #7: Ensure we are heard; we love to campaign on wellbeing

Sohawon says:

The youth of today are super knowledgeable about mental health. We are profusely passionate about world events. Harness this campaigning culture and you will see better performance and productivity from us.”

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