Moving from studying into employment can be a difficult time. So how can businesses support new staff to make a positive transition?

Recent research shows that mental health amongst further education and higher education students is declining. In 2017, the Association of Colleges (AOC) conducted a review with 105 further education colleges in England. They found that 85% of colleges reported increased mental health problems in the past three years.

The transition from being a student at university, where individuals are often surrounded by a close support network and peer group, to entering the world of work, can be an especially difficult time. Embarking on a new career is often the result of hard work and therefore an exciting time, but it can still be a daunting experience. Recent research from the City Mental Health Alliance (CMHA) found that 74% of UK students and graduates looking for a career in the financial, professional and legal sectors are worried about meeting the expectations of their new employers. 69% said they had at some point experienced mental ill health. Given these findings, perhaps unsurprisingly 62% said they’re concerned about the impact a new job will have on their mental health.

A new career may also mean moving locations and the loss of an established support network.

How can employers help?

It’s important to ascertain whether employers are creating an environment in which people at the start of their careers can be open about their mental health experiences and seek support when needed.

Just 1 in 5 of the 519 students and graduates surveyed in the study above said they would feel comfortable disclosing a mental health issue on their application. 41% stated they would avoid ever mentioning that they lived with a long-term mental health issue.

Disclosing mental health issues at work

Mental health is one of the biggest challenges affecting employers today. According to the mental health charity, Mind, 1 in 6 workers experience some form of stress, anxiety or depression. In the UK, it costs employers £42 billion per annum, with half of that figure due to lost productivity associated with poor early intervention and support for those experiencing mental ill health. HSE figures show that there are over 15 million working days lost per year due to work-related stress, anxiety and depression (Labour Force Survey).

Most of us spend more time at work than anywhere else. Yet, the research shows it is often at work where many people feel unable to talk about their mental health. Businesses have a vital role to play in protecting the wellbeing of their employees and creating healthy workplaces where people can thrive. This support needs to be established at the outset of any person’s career. Graduates entering the workplace should feel able to talk openly about their mental health – good and bad – from day one, without fear of damaging their career prospects and their credibility within the workplace. 

Early intervention

Early intervention is not only a vital element for encouraging positive mental health for those with a pre-existing condition, but it is also effective as a prevention tool. People entering the workplace now are the business leaders of the future. If people experience an open culture from the very start, good practice can be embedded into an organisation’s culture for many years to come, making things easier for future generations.

It’s therefore vital that workplaces play their part in working to reduce stigma around mental health, with education campaigns, by rooting out discrimination at the source and focusing on the research of evidence-based initiatives.

One initiative recently launched to help create a culture of openness for those early in their careers is the City Mental Health Alliance (CMHA) Thriving From The Start Network. It’s run and managed by individuals at the beginning of their careers, with the aim of creating a supportive community for new starters in financial and professional services companies in the city of London, including banks, law firms, insurers and accountancy firms.

The network aims to encourage younger city workers to feel safe and comfortable speaking openly about mental health issues, discussing any challenges they face, sharing ideas and feeding back insights to business leaders. For many people, support from peers can be as helpful as support from professionals, and the Thriving From The Start Network provides people with a safe space to discuss mental health openly, in a supportive environment.

Evidence suggests that an organisations’ approach to mental health and wellbeing is an important part of a new starter’s choice of workplace. Research suggests that 83% of students and graduates say they would be more likely to apply to a potential employer that was open about its mental health commitments. However, 76% said they didn’t have any information about any mental health or wellbeing support from potential employers. This is a clear call to action from prospective employees. Workplaces clearly need to prioritise the health and wellbeing of staff as a boardroom issue if they are to attract and retain the best employees that will enable their business to thrive.

This article was written for CABA by mental wellbeing specialist, Kirsty Lilley.
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