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Why young workers’ mental health deserves our attention

May 23, 2019

Why young workers’ mental health deserves our attentionYoung workers aged 16-25 are four times more likely than the general population to experience anxiety and other mental health concerns, according to a 2017 study.* This may be because "young people have to deal with more stressors and less support than previous generations," explains WSPS Consultant Janet Carr. Their stress and anxiety or other mental health concerns may interfere with how well and how safely they do their job. 

Employers can support their young workers' mental health with some simple strategies. Put them in place now - ahead of the summer influx of seasonal workers, and just in time for the Ministry of Labour's annual new and young worker inspection initiative, running from July 15 to August 30.

8 mental health strategies to help young workers

Mental health issues among young workers may be exacerbated by their lack of confidence and skills, and feeling isolated, says Janet. "When someone is new and trying to fit it, they haven't yet established a support network."

Young workers may fear not being taken seriously due to their age and inexperience, and their work ethic may differ from other generations. Young workers often place greater value on work/life balance and may be concerned about work schedules that interfere. 

In addition to providing thorough orientation and training on health and safety rules, responsibilities and job tasks, here are eight strategies to help not only young workers, but benefit all employees: 

  1. Make it clear that talking about mental health issues is okay. "One in five of us experience a mental health issue in a given year," says Janet. "That's a compelling statistic."
  2. Provide mentoring. "This is very important. Young workers need a support person who can give them guidance as they find their way in the workplace."
  3. Get to know your young and new workers. Speak with them regularly to encourage communication and watch for changes in behaviour.
  4. Provide positive feedback. Show workers they are valued.
  5. Know the signs and symptoms of psychological distress. Think about the possibility of mental health issues and encourage the worker to get appropriate professional help as soon as possible. 
  6. Offer flexibility and predictable work hours. Be a positive role model in terms of work-life balance.
  7. Ensure adequate rest. Provide frequent breaks and reasonable time off between shifts.
  8. Know how to start and conduct conversations about mental health with anyone you are concerned about (see training options under "How we can help"). If you're not sure how to handle a mental health situation, contact your employee assistance program for guidance. Refer young workers to in-house resources and/or provide a list of community resources, such as Kids' Help Phone and good2talk, or connect through 2-1-1 (Ontario 211 Services) to find programs and services in your community.

It's critical that every workplace understands that they have a role in preventing mental harm at work, says Janet. Review the 13 factors that influence this, such as leadership and expectations, civility and respect, and psychological protection. 

How we can help

Here's a sample of available training resources: 

Find more resources

* Source: Moll, S. (2017) Young Workers in Ontario: Psychosocial vulnerabilities and support needs. Final report for Ontario Ministry of Labour.