It has been a turbulent year for the job market, especially for young people. More than one in 10 people aged 16 to 25 have lost their jobs, according to research by the London School of Economics published last October.
Nearly six in 10 have seen their earnings fall since the coronavirus pandemic began, with young workers twice as likely to have lost their jobs compared to older employees. ONS data tells a similar woeful tale, with those under the age of 35 accounting for almost 80% of jobs lost in the past year.
Unsurprisingly, this job insecurity is having a serious impact on people’s mental health. A recent study of nearly 5,000 young American adults by University of Toronto researchers found that since March 2020, young adults who lost their job or were part of a household that experienced employment loss were more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression.
For those still working, the fear of losing a job can be just as detrimental, leading to anxiety, stress and low mood. 'Pandemic burnout' is also on the rise as workers put in extra hours to prove their worth to their employers.
“If you’re under 25, you’re 2.5 times more likely to be out of a job right now, so it is no surprise that young people are really struggling,” says Caroline Whaley, co-founder of the career coaching organisation Shine for Women.
“We’ve heard, and continue to hear, too many stories about job losses, the fear of job losses and a lack of employee investment at this level,” she says. “Confidence levels are dropping and the ability to build true connections and have a level of influence is increasingly difficult.
“I've lost count of the number of people we've worked with during the pandemic who have been recruited into new roles and have never set foot in the company office or met their new colleagues in person. The impact on these young people is pretty dramatic.”
Despite COVID-19 restrictions lifting, the damage has already been done for many businesses. However, it’s crucial for employers to nurture young talent through this difficult time. “We're not unaware of how difficult this is right now,” says Whaley. “Yet without these rising stars and without gender parity, organisations will lose the energy, diversity and creativity that we all need right now to transform and future-proof our businesses.”
However, there are steps employers can take to look after young workers and build their confidence.
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Encourage a positive work-life balance
It's easy to work longer hours and take fewer breaks when working from home, particularly if you’re afraid of losing your job. Research has already shown remote workers are working longer hours than ever before, but it rarely pays off for businesses.
Instead, overwork is only going to exacerbate poor mental health and exhaustion and lead to an increase in sick days. A 2019 study by City University London and ESCP Europe Business School, found overwork led to higher levels of stress and exhaustion, as well as fewer advancement opportunities and less job security.
Encouraging workers to take breaks and finish at a reasonable hour is essential. Perhaps more importantly, however, employees need to know they won’t be penalised for not replying to emails late at night — so managers need to adjust their expectations accordingly.
Set-up a workplace mentoring scheme
A mentoring scheme can be a great way to encourage multi-generational collaboration at work. In short, a mentor is someone who can offer professional knowledge from a more experienced perspective. They will be able to share advice, knowledge and guidance, while offering support should younger employees need it. For someone in a junior position, a mentor can be invaluable in boosting their skills, abilities and confidence, while opening up more opportunities for advancement.
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Make communication a priority
Working from home can be isolating, so it’s important to make sure all workers are in the loop with all workplace issues or changes. Good communication goes both ways and younger team members must be able to contact their managers if they have any questions or need guidance. However, checking in with junior team members is very different to checking up on them. Attempting to track a remote worker’s productivity can backfire, leading to stress, disengagement from work and low morale.
Create an Wellness Action Plan
The last year has been a stressful time for many people, to say the least. Encouraging people to complete a Wellness Action Plan can help managers be more aware if someone is struggling. It’s a personal document written by employees and shared with individual managers that includes information about when and why you might become unwell and what keeps you well at work. It’s an agreement and a tool to promote ongoing discussion, rather than a legally binding document.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has trampled on hopes and dreams for so many young people. Confidence and self-esteem levels are worryingly low. These young professionals and potential leaders of the future deserve our attention and some time and resources invested in boosting their confidence and putting their ambitions back on track,” says Whaley.
"We know that bringing people together to learn, share and grow, helps people maintain confidence and provides an essential support network that will keep people going through the toughest times,” she adds. “As well as taking individual responsibility, organisations must focus on investing in young talent. Do that and again, we will start to turn around leadership and create great and lasting change.”