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A new study highlights the growing health impact of the cost-of-living crisis, an impact that is felt most acutely by the young.

In this blog we often try to pull together disparate data sources to try and make some sense of the various payroll and workforce related studies published each month. This post is a perfect example of that, and it starts with a headline in
HR News: “Gen Z employees are taking significantly more sick days than their older peers” it read. The article was reporting on a study by Health Shield Friendly Society, the workplace health benefits specialist.

According to the study, 18–24-year-old workers take three more sick days each year than their older peers. You can almost hear a certain section of society rushing to accuse the Gen Z-ers of being snowflakes, yet beyond the clickbaity headline, all is not quite as it seems.

How the cost-of-living crisis affects mental health

Health Shield runs an employee assistance programme and the study showed that, although 47% of calls to the EAP related to mental health, there was significant disparity between the ages of callers. 25% of mental health-related calls were from young workers (20-29). Just 15% were from those aged 50-59.

One explanation for the disparity is that younger workers feel better able to open up about mental health. That might be a positive but for the fact that younger workers also seem to have good reason to feel that their metal resilience is under greater pressure than is the case with older workers.

According to Mind, the mental health charity, “the mental health of nearly 8 in 10 Britons (78 per cent) surveyed has been affected by the cost-of-living crisis” yet 36% of UK adults never make space in their day to talk about mental health.

Younger people are at the sharpest end of the crisis. According to the Health Shield survey, 44% of younger workers worry about money every day. Shout Out UK notes that, “Under-30s in the UK right now are bearing the brunt of the financial crisis, with lower wages, a lack of financial knowledge and higher expenses to contend with.”

Young people face paying rents that are rising faster than their earnings. Food and energy costs have risen sharply and, despite the dangling carrot of inflation easing over coming months, prices continue to rise. According to the Mind survey, 25% of young people can’t afford social activities. 25% are having to work longer hours. 16% can’t even afford to contact the people they rely on for support as they cut back on mobile and internet costs.

If young people are better equipped to talk about their mental health, it’s probably just as well. Because while everyone is feeling the effects of the crisis, young people are feeling it most acutely.

How can employers help young people’s mental health?

For employers, the challenge is not simply about keeping young people healthy and in work; it’s about keeping them present and focused. It’s not easy to give your best when you’re worried about making rent this month.

Few employers will be able to offer blanket above inflation pay rises, although many have offered occasional buffer payments to ease the impact of the crisis.

Beyond pay, however, there’s plenty employers can do to help all workers – and especially young workers – deal with mental health challenges.

According to HR News, these include:

  • Mental health counselling and reliance training
  • On site or virtual mental health support groups
  • Free healthy snacks
  • Discounted gym memberships or cycle to work schemes (on the basis that physical health can support mental wellbeing)
  • Free or discounted driving schools using office pool cars
  • Training and developing young workers, putting them in a position to climb pay scales on promotion

If you need to free time to focus on your people’s wellbeing, talk to us about outsourcing your payroll.