Millennials, managers more likely to report mental-health struggles

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Millennial workers are more likely than their older colleagues to report having experienced mental illness, according to a new survey commissioned by the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace.

Fifty per cent of employees aged 18 to 34 say they’ve experienced depression, compared to 39% of generation Xers and 29% of baby boomers. Millennials are also more likely to believe they currently have a mental illness (21% versus 14% for generation X versus nine per cent for baby boomers) and say they feel nervous or anxious most days (21% versus 11% and seven per cent, respectively, for the other two groups).

One reason for the generational divide is younger employees are simply more aware of mental health and feel less of a stigma around talking about their challenges, says Mary Ann Baynton, program director at the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace.
“Older workers may not have called it depression or anxiety. They might have said, ‘I’m stressed out,’ or, ‘I’m not working well,’” she says.

The research also found managers are somewhat more likely than employees to report mental-health problems: 44% reported experience with depression, compared to 37% of employees without management responsibilities. Managers are also more likely to say they’re feeling nervous or anxious (15% versus 10%) and can’t control their worrying most days (15% versus 11%).

But managers, who are often older workers, are likely seeing such overrepresentation in the survey for different reasons than millennials. “If anything, you might think the managers are the ones who want to be seen as strong and so are less likely to say they’re experiencing mental-health conditions,” says Sean Simpson, vice-president for Canada at Ipsos, which conducted the survey. “So I think in this case, what might be happening is that managers are more likely to experience mental-health conditions, likely related to increased levels of stress and workload.”

It’s key to build up managers’ emotional intelligence, which can help them handle their employees’ mental-health issues as well as their own, says Baynton. Anecdotally, she adds, younger workers like millennials are turning down management positions because the stress isn’t worth the higher salary. “So it’s getting harder to fill those positions,” she says. “We need to change that role from being the person blamed for everything that goes wrong to the person who is supported to create a mentally healthy workplace.”

The trend of non-stop brain stimulation is also affecting employees’ mental health, no matter their age. Providing staff members with smartphones and data plans isn’t necessarily problematic, but expecting them to be constantly available is.

“I think when we look at younger people, too, there’s an expectation that you’re going to be the best. And I think that’s a very unfortunate perspective, and we have to come to a place of balance where you do your best, ” says Baynton.

Encouraging employees to help each other, rather than compete in the workplace, can also be helpful, as can promoting regular breaks. “When you have balance in your life, the productivity that you have is higher than the people who just keep pushing through,” says Baynton. “I think as employers start to see the evidence for this, they will start to encourage their employees, not because it’s the right thing to do, not because it’s the nice thing to do, but because it’s the best business decision.”

The survey also found both millennials (13%) and managers (12%) report higher instances of workplace bullying than generation X-ers (9%) and baby boomers (8%).

Bullying often stems from misinterpreted intentions, says Baynton. That is, when stressed or overwhelmed, employees may snap and shout at their colleagues or feel their co-workers are shouting at them. “We have to help people understand that at times when we’re vulnerable, at times when we’re in pain or we’re struggling, we need to question the assumptions about the motives of others,” she adds.

And if managers notice bullying, they shouldn’t yell at the alleged aggressor. “We need to learn how to say, ‘It sounds like you’re having a tough day. I need to take this offline with you. Let’s go and talk. Let’s grab a coffee. And to give you the respect that’s probably not your intention and give you a chance to regroup and rethink your approach,’” says Baynton.

Transcontinental Media G.P.