New job designs putting mental health on a par with physical health

Louise Aston, Business in the Community Wellbeing at Work Director, calls for good job design, putting mental health on a par with physical wellbeing following the publication of a new report today. 

Today, a new report has been published by the IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research) in partnership with Business in the Community,  'Flexibility For Who? Millennials and Mental Health in the Modern Labour Market'.  The report looks at the impact structural changes to the labour market are having on young people’s mental health. Amongst the main findings of the report are that young people are experiencing high levels of poor mental health, with the number being higher for part-time or temporary workers. Many young people are also working in jobs which have flexibility, but lack control, such as zero-hours contracts or are underemployed in roles they are over-qualified for.

While mental health issues can affect anyone regardless of age; we know that younger and older workers’ experiences vary significantly. Our Mental Health at Work report found that 18-29-year-olds were more likely to experience symptoms of poor mental health and for work to have been a contributing factor in these symptoms compared to 50-59-year-olds. However, they also feel less comfortable discussing mental health with their line managers and are less trusting in their employer’s commitment to mental health and wellbeing.

Today’s report sheds light on these findings by exploring some of the reasons why young people may be experiencing high levels of poor mental health – not only an increasingly flexible labour market but also a rising state pension age and slow wage growth. And as the labour market continues to change, there is a risk that the number of young people affected by work-related mental health problems could increase further, putting a strain on productivity.

So how can employers support younger employees’ mental health as they move within and between different forms of employment? For a start, we would encourage business to follow the calls to action in our Mental Health at Work report, including signing the Time to Change Employers’ Pledge, investing in basic mental health training for all employees and asking all employees about their experiences. We also recommend that companies with over 50 employees should create a ‘workers’ forum’ to ensure that employees have sufficient influence over their working lives, including those on flexible contracts.

Employers should also promote good job design, such as making use of rapidly changing technology to promote the benefits of flexibility and improve job security for low-paid workers. Additionally, responsible businesses must use the changing nature of work to start a conversation and reassure employees they will be supported and not judged if they disclose a mental health issue at work, with a particular focus on promoting and protecting younger colleagues’ mental health. Taking these steps will help business to embed wellbeing into their organisational culture and maximise the potential of longer, more flexible working lives.

We know that today’s 20-year-olds have a 50% chance of living to be over 100. While employers are already beginning to prepare for supporting their older workers’ physical health; it’s vital that they are also prepared to support their mental wellbeing of all their employees, regardless of age, in the light of the changing nature of work in the UK. By acting now to put mental health on a par with physical wellbeing, employers can create workplaces where everyone is able to lead happy, healthy and productive lives. Although progress has been made, there is still a long way to go.