Young Workers Demand Emphasis on Mental Health in the Workplace

Wellness programs have been on the rise for years, but including a program for mental health in the workplace is a newer trend.

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Are you ready for a new generation of workers to hit the scene? Well, ready or not, Generation Z is here, and their priorities could be changing American workplaces for the better. Beyond physical wellness programs, younger workers are demanding a bigger emphasis on mental health in the workplace.

Who Is Gen Z?

Definitions for Gen Z vary. Some studies define this younger generation as people born as early as 1990, or as late as 2005. Generally speaking, we think of Gen Z as individuals who were born between the mid-1990’s and the early 2000’s. But regardless, they’re ready to make themselves known to employers.

In 2015, staffing companies Robert Half and Enactus reported that Gen Z would make up 20 percent of the American workforce by 2020, according to a recent survey. Paul McDonald, the Senior Executive Director at Robert Half, says it would be a mistake to assume that the “new kids” will have similar expectations and needs to the last generation of young people. Gen Z workers have different attitudes than their Millennial counterparts on many issues. One major area of difference is in mental health care.

Why Is Mental Health Important to Gen Z?

Today’s young adults have different mental health issues to contend with than generations past. A recent study in the journal Pediatrics found that depression among teens shot up by half a million between 2004 and 2014. Those depressed teens are now depressed 20-somethings. In fact, Gen Z’ers are more likely to suffer from depression than any other age group. Many of these young people also suffer from sleep disorders, self-esteem issues, and anxiety. According to some reports, these problems may be related to their excessive use of technology and social media.

What’s more, Gen Z-ers recognize that mental health in the workplace is important, and they are demanding benefits and workplace policies that acknowledge this reality.

Mental Health in the Workplace: Policies That Support Your Employees

So how can you, as an employer, make your organization attractive to these young job candidates who are demanding better mental health policies? Let’s take a look at some employer practices that address mental health in the workplace in a positive way.

Increase Your Company’s Awareness of Emotional Wellness

Mental health and emotional wellness are just as important as physical health. And despite the fact that 18 percent of US adults have an anxiety disorder, and 6.7 percent have experienced a major depressive episode in the last year, mental health problems are still associated with a lot of stigmas. Unfortunately, many companies overlook the emotional needs of their employees. It’s time we changed that.

It can be powerful for employers to simply recognize that anxiety and depression exist and even more so to support employees seeking treatment. One way that you can show your employees that you recognize their need for mental health is by pointing out the resources you have available.

Does your company’s health plan offer mental health treatment services? Do you have an employee assistance program? Do you have written or online materials available that address mental health concerns? Periodically remind your team that these resources are there, and that you encourage their use.

Lead by Example

As an employer, you can show your employees that it’s okay to prioritize their own health by prioritizing yours. Try to avoid constant stress and overworking. Demonstrate the importance of breaks by taking them yourself.

Of course, you will always have deadlines to meet. We’re not suggesting that you allow your business priorities to slide. But do try to create projects with feasible deadlines, plan work in advance, and delegate when necessary. Be sure that any work you take on can be completed in 40 hours a week, without taking work home or coming in on weekends.

Allow Employees to Count “Mental Health Days” as Sick Leave

Twenty years ago, employees in all sorts of organizations used to “cheat” and call in sick when they just needed a break for their mental health. Now we know that this is not cheating at all. When your mental health needs attention, it is just as reasonable to stay home sick as when you have a cold.

Let your employees know that if symptoms of anxiety, depression, or any other mental condition have them feeling like they need a break from work, you encourage them to use sick leave to do so.

Be Sure That Your Health Plan Thoroughly Covers Mental Health Care

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, health plans are now required to cover mental health treatment and prescription drugs as essential health benefits. The 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act also requires that mental health benefits in any health plan be just as favorable as medical or surgical benefits.

But there are still a few holes. For instance, many insurance carriers restrict their prescription drug formularies without recognizing that mental health drugs affect each person differently. Many health plans also have very high deductibles and copays, which can be difficult for employees to afford when they have they have to see a therapist once a week.

Take a look at your health plan and how it would affect an employee with a mental health problem. See if there is any room for improvement. And to supplement, try offering your employees subscriptions to specific mental health or meditation apps on their phones.

Generation Z has arrived and they have their own set of priorities. To attract and retain these young, motivated employees, try emphasizing mental health in the workplace. It might do your company some good.

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