Press release: Generation Z let down by employers and universities over mental health support, new study shows

10 October 2018

Young people are being let down by employers and universities when it comes to their mental health, a study by Business Disability Forum and Youthsight has found.

The study of 1,000 16-24 year olds revealed that while the vast majority had both a strong understanding of mental health and a desire to see it talked about more prominently, very few felt able to address the issue at their workplace or university.

As many as a third of university students and young graduates (under the age of 24) said that they had either considered dropping out themselves due to a lack of mental health support, or knew someone else who had considering leaving, meaning many thousands of students could be considered at risk.

In addition, most felt the support available for their mental health did not reflect the issues they faced in reality.

High expectations

The study found that the vast majority of 16-24 year olds, regardless of their work or educational status, saw mental health both as a topic that needed to be talked about more and as something that university and employers needed to take more seriously.

Furthermore, 16-24 year olds were found to take an empowered stance when it came to employers, with a majority saying they would consider leaving if not supported at work.

  • 91% of 16-24 year olds feel we should all be talking more about mental health.
  • 91% feel it is the responsibility of an employer to support good mental health and wellbeing of employees, and 89% of students and graduates feel a university has this responsibility to its students.
  • 84% expect employers to be able to spot the signs of poor mental health.
  • 65% of young people would consider leaving a job if their employer didn’t support their mental health.

Young people let down by higher education institutions

However, many young people found that their desire for more openness and support was unfulfilled once they reached the worlds of higher education and work.

For example:

  • Only 55% of students or graduates feel their university supports their good mental health and well-being.
  • 63% of students or graduates would not be comfortable talking about their mental health at university or work, with someone they don’t know well. Raising particular concerns around new students failing to seek the support they need.
  • 34% have either considered leaving university, or knew someone who has, due to a lack of mental health support.

These figures are particularly striking in the context that almost six in ten (57%) young people in general agreed that the way people talk about mental health and well-being does not reflect the issues they face in reality.

Business Disability Forum’s advice to employers and universities

 

Business Disability Forum cited the results as compelling evidence that more needed to be done to meet the expectations of ‘Generation Z’: young people aged 24 and under, and to ensure appropriate support was on offer.

In particular, Business Disability Forum called on universities to:

  • Offer training to all staff on how to recognise the signs of poor mental health amongst students and how to signpost students to support available.
  • Provide line-manager training to ensure staff have access to support for their own mental wellbeing, as they in turn support others.
  • Encourage open communication and make sure support services and academic staff share information about students’ mental wellbeing.
  • Work to end any stigma associated with talking about mental health.

Business Disability Forum also called on all employers to take measures around mental health awareness and support, pointing to its ‘ten-point strategy’ to reduce workplace stress released earlier this year.

Diane Lightfoot, Chief Executive Officer at Business Disability Forum, said:

“The message from this survey is clear. Generation Z recognises the importance of good mental wellbeing and expects universities and employers to ensure their needs are met. But they are being let down by a culture in which talking about mental health is still seen as a taboo, and staff feel ill-equipped to spot the signs and offer support.

 “Add concerns over mental health support to the high debts incurred from university and a fluid job market, and you have an entire cohort of people who will readily walk away from organisations that do not actively support their mental health. Our findings suggest that thousands of young people are already considering leaving their universities or workplaces over a lack of mental health support; many more could follow if organisations do not approach mental health differently with a potentially devastating impact on our future workforce.

“But all is by no means lost. Other studies have suggested that Generation Z feel great loyalty to institutions who reflect their values and attitudes, so there are big rewards for employers and universities who get it right on mental health.

Josephine Hansom, Head of Youth Research and Insight at YouthSight, added that the findings clearly show that Generation Z have strong views about the role of employers and universities in society.

Josephine said: “Young people are clear that mental health is a priority, both in and outside of the workplace. The challenge for employers and institutions alike is to meet these new expectations. Many Millennials (aged 25-30) and Generation Z (16-24) have already demonstrated that they will not settle for less, moving jobs far more quickly than previous generations and letting a strong sense of social justice inform their spending and career choices.

“To make the most of this optimistic and highly-connected new generation of young people, employers and universities must demonstrate that they reflect this generation’s values. An enlightened approach to safeguarding and managing mental health is one of the foremost of these values, as the results show, which should be a clear incentive for organisations to evolve and change.”

Business Disability Forum is conducting further research into the experiences and expectations of young people, and the role that employers and universities play in supporting mental wellbeing. A full report of all findings will be available early 2019. For further information email samuelb@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk

Ends

Notes to editors:

1.       Business Disability Forum and YouthSight’s survey of mental health attitudes went to a representative online panel of 1,003 16-24 year olds, 653 of whom were university students or graduates. This study was undertaken between 13 September and 20 September 2018.

 

2.       Business Disability Forum is a not-for-profit member organisation that makes it easier and more rewarding to do business with and employ disabled people. By providing pragmatic support, sharing expertise, giving advice, providing training and facilitating networking opportunities, we help organisations to become fully accessible to disabled customers and employees. Ultimately, our aim is transform the life chances – and experience – of disabled people as employees and consumers. We have more than twenty years’ experience of working with public and private sector organisations, formerly as the Employers’ Forum on Disability, where we were instrumental in lobbying for and creating the first meaningful disability legislation in the UK in the shape of the Disability Discrimination Act. Our 300 members now employ around 15% of the UK workforce and range from FTSE 100 companies and central Government departments to transport providers, construction companies, retailers, higher education providers and public services. We also work closely with Government to shape disability policy and to feedback what works – what doesn’t – from our Members and Partners.

3.       For further information regarding any points raised in this press release or the associated research, or to request an interview with a spokesperson from Business Disability Forum or YouthSight, please contact Samuel Buckley, Press Officer at Business Disability Forum, on 020-7089-2471 or samuelb@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk.