When I grow up I want to be ….

stressed all of the time, anxious most days, working longer hours than I knew was possible, incredibly tired, drinking most nights just to cope and battling serious depression

– all whilst pretending to be a successful lawyer/accountant/doctor/management consultant/etc... 

Most graduates spend many years studying in the hopes of leading a happy and fulfilled life in the job of their dreams. Yet as graduates enter the workforce for the first time, they find that working life is not as glamorous as they had been led to believe.

A report on graduate well-being produced by Student Minds highlights that “moving into the workplace can be a significant challenge for a young person’s mental health”. Graduates entering the workplace for the first time often have to deal with many changes occurring at the same time requiring them to face many new pressures at once. Many graduates will find themselves starting a new job, in a new city, working long hours, with new people and leading a very different lifestyle to that which they experienced in their student days. It is for this reason that the Student Minds report, which summarises input from 300 graduates, emphasises the importance of employers providing graduates with appropriate support at the start of their careers. “Getting the transition into the workplace right improves subsequent mental wellbeing and reduces subsequent stress”.

The most junior members of a workforce are often the most vulnerable – feeling the need to impress, having no control over the work delegated to them by their seniors and new to working life. It is no surprise that mental health issues are often experienced by young professionals when they first move into the workplace. In the Law Society’s Junior Lawyers Division 2018 report on resilience and well-being in the workplace, it was reported that:

- more than 90% of junior solicitors said they experienced negative stress;

- over 25% of junior lawyers said they had suffered with a mental health problem in the last month; and

- more than 50% of respondents said that their employer could do more on mental health at work.

The cost to companies of mental health related issues is significant. The 2017 Health and Safety Executive Labour Force Survey estimates that the total number of working days lost in Great Britain due to work related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/7 was 12.5 million days and that stress accounted for 40% of all work related ill health cases and 49% of all working days lost due to ill health in 2016/7. If employers take steps to support their youngest members of staff, it is possible that the number of working days lost due to poor mental health could be significantly reduced.

The Student Minds Report suggests that “employers interested in minimising disruptive workplace stress need to be considering how they can support young adults to make the transition from university to the workplace…If employers can support young recruits in their early years of employment, they have the opportunity to build a more resilient workforce for the future”. The report highlights that employers should be taking an approach to mental health which seeks to prevent problems before they arise and not just to treat mental health issues once they are serious.

So what can employers do to help support these vulnerable individuals as they begin their careers? Raising mental health awareness, creating a culture in which new employees feel comfortable talking about their mental health and teaching new starters tools to help them thrive in the new working environment are all key. Employers are finding new ways to achieve these goals: many offering free one-on-one counselling, training members of staff as mental health first aiders and teaching new employees about nutrition/sleep/exercise/managing workload and other steps they can take to boost their general health and well-being are some of the ways that employers are equipping their junior team members to thrive.

Of course none of these things can happen without senior level buy-in. Yet when there is the opportunity to build a more profitable, happy and engaged work-force you would wonder why there wouldn’t be senior buy-in. Unfortunately in many organisations senior staff are often only measured against their financial performance and are not held accountable for the well-being of their team. Indeed senior staff often do not even have visibility over the day-to-day experience of their employees, let alone have any understanding of the state of their mental health. Maybe if organisations started measuring their managers’ performance not just against profitability but also against the well-being and engagement of their team, this would further incentivise the more senior members of an organisation to take an active interest in the health of their employees and put mental health more firmly on the agenda

…and when mental health and well-being is taken more seriously, it will reduce the number of sick days taken by employees, create a happier work-force, boost morale as well as profitability and make the manager’s financial results even better – so in the end everyone wins.

When I grow up I want to be…

a GOOD lawyer/accountant/doctor/management consultant/etc… and I hope that my employer can provide me with the training, tools and support that I need to make the transition into the workplace effectively.