Young employees and workplace stress: a call to action.

The youngest adults in the workforce today, those 18 to 34 years old, are more likely to report high levels of stress than those 55 and older. This is a key finding in this year’s Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey which suggests that younger workers may be more affected by workplace stress than their older colleagues.

The survey reports that plan members aged 18 to 34 (34%) are more likely to report high levels of stress than those 55 and older (22%). And, those aged 18 to 34 (42%) are also much more likely than those aged 55 and older (23%) to say they have felt physically ill as a result of stress. Half of young workers took at least one sick day due to stress in the past year and nearly half also arrived late or left early for that same reason; this is more than twice as much as for older employees.

Experts agree this finding is disconcerting and needs stakeholders’ attention. It can have obvious repercussions for employers and organizations, mainly because of the significant direct medical costs and disability claims associated with mental health conditions that can occur as a result of high stress levels. Indirect costs of mental health conditions can translate into lost productivity, absenteeism, unrealized output, stress on team members, as well as recruitment, hiring and retraining costs.

Source: 2020 TELUS Health Drug Data Trends and National Benchmarks Report (TELUS Health report)

Mental illnesses have been steadily on the rise among teens and young adults for some time. Now that this cohort is entering the workforce, the shift in claims data related to mental illnesses is becoming apparent. The 2020 TELUS Health Drug Data Trends and National Benchmarks Report (TELUS Health report) found that 2019 saw the biggest increase in average eligible costs for private drug plans over the past five years. One of the most important findings of this year’s report is the increase in the use of medication for mental health issues, with drugs for depression representing the highest number of claims. The report states that private plans saw double-digit increases in eligible claims costs from insured Canadians under the age of 29 in 2019. “We are seeing more mental health-related claims, as well as claims for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in this age cohort,” explains Jason Kennedy, Director, Health Business Consulting at TELUS Health.

Although this may sound alarming, it is not necessarily all bad news. The higher numbers may also indicate that awareness strategies put in place in the last few years are working. “Awareness of mental health has grown over the past decade, and feelings of stigma are greatly reduced. Unlike previous generations, younger people today are less likely to think they are invincible and more likely to recognize they need help,” says Kennedy. So, while younger employees are reporting higher levels of stress, the increase in claims can also indicate that they are more willing to get the help they need sooner. As the stigma surrounding mental illness is beginning to lessen, young employees are more likely to seek help and access treatment early – which can positively impact losses in productivity and generate cost savings in the long run.

Employers, insurers, and organizations have already started to focus more actively on ways to maximize their employees’ mental health by offering wellness programs focused on their employees emotional and mental well-being. “Employers and insurers understand it’s ‘Okay to not be okay’ and want to support their employees’ well-being. This can have a positive effect on workplace productivity, absence, and team member morale,” says Kennedy. While increasing maximums for mental health counselling services is always a good option, the Sanofi survey advisory board members also recommend that mental health training expands beyond support for mental illness to include preventative measures such as resilience training. And, internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy (iCBT) is also a promising option that has proven to reduce the duration of leaves. The TELUS health report notes that employers have an opportunity to provide more fulsome benefit packages to include mental health and wellness support that go beyond medication reimbursement. For the younger generation of employees, this approach may generate better mental health outcomes and see cost benefits for all stakeholders in the long term.

Key takeaways:

  • Greater attention must be paid to younger employees’ mental well-being. They report higher levels of stress which puts them more at risk for mental health illnesses.
  • The TELUS Health report notes a significant increase in the number of mental health related claims and an increased use of drugs for mental-health conditions in younger employees in 2019.
  • Although this trend is concerning, it also means that younger employees might be more open to confronting their mental health problems and getting the help they need sooner.
  • As employees’ mental health is garnering more attention, employers and insurers are ramping up initiatives focusing on work-life balance and wellness as well as offering a more holistic approach to mental health treatments and prevention.
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