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Millennial employees may suffer from depression more than any other generation in the workforce, and companies will need to prioritize mental health resources as they become the largest population of employees.
Approximately one in five millennials report experiencing depression, compared to 16 percent of Generation X employees and 16 percent of baby boomers, according to Research from employee assistance program provider Bensinger, Dupont & Associates. Overall, the study found that depression accounted for 17 percent of EAP users.
Millennials are a unique group of workers because of the circumstances under which they first entered the workforce, Dennis Miller, a strategic leadership coach and former chief executive officer of Somerset Medical Center and Healthcare Foundation, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 15.
“They are the first generation to enter the workplace highly educated, but the job growth does not exist for them,” Miller said. High percentages of workers who feel they are over-educated but underemployed can lead to anxiety and depression in the workplace, said Miller, who has battled depression throughout his life.
Depression can greatly affect an individual’s ability to be productive in the workplace, and if widespread can impact a company’s bottom line.
Employees who rated as depressed in the study reported several factors as a result of their depression: they missed days from work, presented to work physically but did not function at full capacity, experienced tension or conflict with coworkers, and received either verbal or written disciplinary action.
The study is based on data from employees seeking EAP services over an 18-month period, from January 2013 to June 2014.
Both generational and societal factors likely play a role in why millennials have a higher rate of depression in the workplace, consultants told Bloomberg BNA.
According to Miller, employees’ upbringing may be largely to blame because they were not given the necessary coping skills to persevere through the stagnant labor market of the great recession.
The lack of preparedness started in school, Miller said. Millennials were encouraged to ace their tests instead of explore ways to pursue their career passions and learn needed skill sets. “Students are taught to get good grades, and not necessarily educated for competence. In many ways, this is superficial and it doesn’t get to the heart of building people’s confidence,” Miller said. This has resulted in a gap between expectations as a millennial and the realities of today’s job market, he said.
Millennials also want a purpose in life, more so than the paycheck, Miller said. “They want to have an impact,” and many jobs in the corporate world are all about money, so “they aren’t blending well.”
Societal influences may tell a different story, however, according to Barb Veder, vice president of clinical services and research lead at Morneau Shepell, a provider of health and welfare solutions. The Millennial generation has an intense focus on health and wellness, and the core values they expect from workplace culture are different than baby boomer and Gen X employees, Veder told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 15.
The importance millennials place on physical and mental health means they are proactive about identifying and addressing challenges, Veder said. Stigma is no longer a black cloud for them.
“They are much more comfortable coming out with issues and being much more forthright than generations before them,” she said. The higher numbers of millennials in the EAP study could simply be a result of the younger generation’s comfort with self-disclosure, which “is much higher than any generation before,” Veder said.
At any age, early intervention for individuals suffering from depression is key, Veder said.
HR should focus on educating employees and leaders on depression to recognize when employees, co-workers and colleagues are struggling, she said. The sooner people can get help, the more likely they are to get back to optimal functioning.
HR also has to recognize that people and their health don’t work in a straight line, Veder said. Sometimes people can slip backwards in their health, or have an isolated incident or have more of an ongoing issue. “Not everybody needs the same level or type of support, and there may be different points in time when people need different types of intervention,” she said.
Miller also advocated for companies to invest in training to help recognize the symptoms of depression in the workplace so they can help intervene if someone is in crisis. Companies also have to have a culture of self-care, Miller said, and employees should feel they can take leave when needed.
“Taking time off is a vital part of remaining productive and present in the workplace,” Miller said.
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The Bensinger, Dupont & Associates study is available at http://www.bensingerdupont.com/depression-and-work-download.
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