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How COVID is Affecting Mental Health: Younger Generations Hit the Hardest

Aug 24, 2021 | United Agencies Corporate Blog

The multi-generational workplace has a major gulf to overcome when it comes to supporting the mental health of their workers.

Gen Z and millennial employees have been struggling more with their mental health than older generations during the pandemic. The Standard found that 71% of Gen Z and 59% of millennial employees have reported a mental health issue during the pandemic, compared to 36% of Gen X and 22% of baby boomers.

“The pandemic has added or compounded stressors that younger workers were already coping with,” says Melissa Oliver-Janiak, senior director of benefits and HR Service Center at The Standard. “These include less job security, less housing stability, more debt and lower wage earnings than previous generations. It’s not surprising that younger workers may be struggling more in terms of their mental well-being.”

The bright side is that younger employees feel more empowered to speak up about their needs and push the conversation around mental health forward, Oliver-Janiak says. Employers should listen and learn from their employees when it comes to providing mental health benefits and support.

Oliver-Janiak spoke to Employee Benefit News (EBN) about what these employees want most and how younger employees are driving an open dialogue around well-being in the workplace.

How has COVID been particularly hard for younger generations of workers?

The pandemic has been isolating for most people because we have been asked to reduce our social circles and refrain from most public and social activities. But younger workers are less likely to live in a family unit, and if you live alone or with a roommate, the pandemic may be even more isolating. With the rise of remote workplaces, this can also contribute to the sense of isolation people are experiencing.

This pandemic has been an especially traumatic event and has brought about a real sense of uncertainty regarding when it will end. There are also the longer-term societal and financial impacts which loom larger in the lives of younger people.

What are some of the differences in how younger workers deal with their mental health compared to older workers?

Younger workers have grown up in a world where there is less stigma around mental health concerns than there has been for prior generations, so perhaps they are more in tune with and willing to voice their own concerns around it. This makes them “change agents” in the area of behavioral health because they’re willing to talk about it and ask for help.

I think younger workers are helping to bring mental health to the forefront of conversations around workplace benefits and necessary employee support. It’s time to meet them where they are by having a workplace culture that prioritizes it.

It seems like employers are really ramping up their mental health support, but employees aren’t benefiting from it or know it exists. What is the missing link here?

It’s important for employers to know that younger generations may need more support, communication and accommodations as they continue to struggle with behavioral health issues exacerbated by the pandemic.

Our study found that younger workers — Millenials and Gen Z — are the least likely to be aware of the mental health benefits and support available to them from their employers as compared to older generations. So while potentially more aware of their own mental health needs, individuals in these groups may be less likely to take advantage of programs or resources provided by their employee benefits plan that can provide support to them during this time.

The number one task for employers is to cultivate workplace cultures that normalize conversations around mental health and put resources in place for those who need support. This is going to take a new level of communication with employees and ensure that information is easily accessible to them, communicated often and is backed up by a workplace culture that destigmatizes issues relating to addiction or substance abuse and mental health.

Employers can lean on and partner closely with their EAP and incorporate programs designed specifically to help struggling employees stay at work or return to work sooner. These programs are in place to help reduce claims and extended leaves of absence but more importantly, by prioritizing employees who are vulnerable, companies are going to see increased employee loyalty and productivity.

The aftermath of this pandemic will be seen and felt in the workplace for a long time, and if we can arm employees now with the tools and support and encouragement, we’ll be better for it not just from a business standpoint, but from a societal standpoint.

For questions or information about this important topic Contact United Agencies for assistance.


Employee Benefits Network (EBN)
Featured Image via ShutterStock