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Young Workers and Mental Health

Being a young worker stepping out of education into the workplace is challenging and it can take time to adjust to the ‘real world’. Education and work are completely different. There’s no longer any hand holding and no one there to tell you what to write and how to write it. Just weaning younger workers off their view that they have an unfettered right and need to phone, message and post on social media on their mobile phone during working hours (“it’s my human rights!” No, it’s not) can be a challenge. The first three –six months in a first job is often the hardest (for both employer and employee) as the new employee starts to transition and then often becomes a good team member. For your information, we have just prepared The Real Apprentice, a briefing paper on working with young people. Contact us for a copy.

Mental ill health can afflict people of any age. Covering a huge range of ill health conditions it can be anything from feeling slightly down to having a much more severe mental impairment such as bipolar depression or schizophrenia. Many workers are reluctant to disclose details of their ill health to their employer and try to struggle on alone – sometimes with disastrous results.

It seems that younger workers are particularly reluctant to let their employer know if they have a mental impairment. In a study conducted by Willis PMI Group on more than 1,300 workers aged 16 to 24 it found that 26 per cent have never spoken to their employer about their mental health condition. 38 per cent of workers aged 45 to 64 it would talk to their employer.

For many people mental ill health still carries a stigma that most physical ill health conditions does not have. The survey showed that around out of the 1,300 workers surveyed a third felt that if they were to disclose a mental health issue to their employer it would have a negative impact on their career. 30 per cent of those surveyed felt that they would not receive the adequate support and believe that their manager would think less of them if they were aware of the employee’s mental health condition.

Mental health problems at work cost the UK around £30 billion a year through loss of production and absences. For example, last week information published by the BBC suggested the number of UK police officers and staff on long-term sick with mental health conditions has risen by around 35 per cent over the last five years. In 2014/15 the cases were around 6,129.

Some signs of mental ill health might include:

  • poor performance;
  • poor timekeeping;
  • poor decision-making and poor judgement;
  • unusual, out of character behaviours;
  • lack of energy;
  • uncommunicative, withdrawn or moody behaviour;
  • erratic behaviour, emotional outbursts.

In some cases – depression particularly – many people who become unwell don’t recognise that they are ill or shrug it off as being a touch under the weather. If you have concerns that an employee is becoming unwell or has become unwell have a private informal conversation with him. Explain that you have noticed a change and are concerned for him. You want to check in with him to see what’s happening and see if there’s anything he would like to discuss with you.

You may be the only person who realises that he needs help. In one case I had been called in to investigate a man, formerly an excellent employee, had started doing some extremely odd things which were certainly gross misconduct. I had never met him before but when I did it became clear very quickly that there was something amiss. It wasn’t a disciplinary matter, he was ill. He told me he was fine but agree to a medical with a psychiatric advisor. It turned out that he’d had a complete breakdown and wasn’t aware of it. Neither his family nor his employer had realised that he was so ill. Once it had been diagnosed he could start treatment.

If the employee continues to show signs for concern have a welfare meeting with him and find out what is going on as far as possible and if needed refer the employee for a medical assessment. This may shed light on what’s going on and help you decide on the next steps.

We deal with the good, the bad and the ugly of HR. If you need help with ill employees, young employees or any other HR issues, give us a call on 01908 26 26 28.

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