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Health and Wellbeing at Work

06 May 2024

Sick of work : What is happening to young people in the workplace?

Lauren Mistry, Deputy CEO of Youth Employment UK
Young people are feeling increasingly disconnected from the services, systems and people around them. Issues and challenges that have gone unsupported or underfunded since Covid 19 alongside the pressure to ‘catch up’ on all of the experiences they have missed have led to growing insecurity about the future. These factors with the backdrop of ongoing political economic and global change are culminating in a high sense of anxiety and disconnect for those in and out of work

Much has been made of the mental health crises young people are currently facing across education and for those looking for work. The latest ONS figures show the current economic inactivity rate for young people aged 16-24 at 42.8%. Recent growth in economic inactivity has been attributed to ill health but it will take more time to explore the data flows and establish if the growth in economic inactivity is driven by those leaving work, education or those who chose to not look for work at all.

How are young people in work fairing?

In previous years young people in work have indicated that the stability, security and sense of routine in work has supported them to better withstand the disruptions of Covid 19. But 2023 saw a decline in the overall happiness and wellbeing of young people in work. 1 in 3 young people were struggling with their wellbeing in work and overall they were 4.8 ppts less likely to be happy in their current role compared to last year.

What is driving this decrease of happiness and wellbeing in work?

The biggest changes and challenges for young people were the increase in workload, stress and pressure. Most felt the weight of additional responsibilities and tasks without support, training and development. Additional responsibilities were most typically the result of colleagues and line managers leaving the organisation or being off with ill-health and not being replaced.

Young people were rarely compensated for the additional work they were taking on and for many being able to afford to work was a growing issue. Those struggling with challenges due to location, flexibility and travel were up around 8% on previous years. The cost of getting to and from work, living in a safe accessible location and feeling as though work was ‘worth it’ was a growing issue, especially for apprentices.

Employers have been vocal in their challenges to attract and retain talent, the post covid high of vacancies out stripping the number of people looking for work has tailed off as the cost of living and inflation continue to grow. Post Covid 19 those who faced furlough or had lost jobs were happy to be back in work and hoping to regain a sense of stability and normalcy but the reality is work has changed for us all.

Office based staff have seen a shift from virtual to hybrid and, whilst a preference for hybrid working remains strong, as we head back to the office those social connections in work feel harder to forge for those early in their careers. For many, being back in the office didn’t necessarily mean being with their team or connecting with others. Those working in service industries continue to see first hand how Covid 19 has changed our social interactions, with retail staff facing more instances of abuse.

For those long into a career, with networks, connections and experience these changes can be navigated with more ease than those early to career trying to build and understand their knowledge, network and skills having missed so much interaction and engagements in the past 4 years. This uncertainty is understandably leading to a lot of anxiety.

51% of young people in work struggled with anxiety and cited it as a barrier to accessing work. 10% of young people had suffered or were suffering with depression. With staff, systems and structures that support us under pressure, we have to ensure that our overstretched workplaces are creating a supportive culture for everyone. As experts in youth employment we are supporting employers and young people to navigate this changing landscape. At the end of May we will launch a first of its kind digital benchmarking tool, supporting employers to recognise their good practice and where opportunities might lie. You can find out more about our work here.

About the Author and Youth Employment UK:

Lauren Mistry is the Deputy CEO of Youth Employment UK, a youth employment expert organisation powered by the voice and experiences of young people and employers. Lauren is also the author and lead of the annual Youth Voice Census, a national survey that hears from thousands of young people aged 11-30 about their life experiences, challenges and opportunities.


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