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Jamie Mackenzie

Sodexo Engage


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Different people, different needs: mental health and older workers


Mental health may be less of a taboo subject in the workplace today, but for older workers the culture of suffering silently may be hard to move away from. How can you ensure that employees across all generations feel safe to speak up about their issues when needed?

It’s hugely positive to have mental health supported in the workplace. Now more than ever, employees at every level are feeling empowered to speak up about their challenges, while businesses have become far more effective at providing the right support to staff.

However, even with all the improvements made towards mental health and wellbeing, there are still groups that may struggle to speak up – especially older generations.

Seeing the differences

Historically, if staff felt mentally strained at work, they were more likely to hand in their notice than raise the issue with managers. For many, mental health was a topic that wasn’t discussed and has only recently become a focus for businesses.

As a result, older employees who haven’t been used to having these conversations as part of their work life are likely to struggle when it comes to raising any mental health concerns with managers.

For so long, this simply wasn’t done. So even if the business has all sorts of initiatives in place, it can still be difficult for older workers to overcome these ingrained perceptions built up over the years.

Companies need to provide ongoing support rather than just reacting to issues when they arise.

If staff still remember a time when mental wellbeing was not such a priority, it’s understandable to think that the topic may be too personal to discuss at work. It’s also easy for older staff to rationalise the issue by thinking that the business wants to focus on younger employees, or that their boss is too busy to speak about their personal pressures.

As a result, many older employees may think that it’s ‘easier’ to retire or move jobs instead of having these discussions. But this doesn’t remove stress from the workplace or create a supportive culture in the business. Companies therefore need to think about how to better engage with older generations to prevent departures that could have otherwise been avoided. 

Speaking normally

Many of the same practices that businesses use to support mental health in the workplace can still be used when engaging with older employees. Providing a safe and secure environment where staff can feel confident to talk about these issues should be a priority, but with older staff, this may need to be located outside the office setting – like a quiet café.

Taking the conversation out of the office setting may help some employees to feel more comfortable with speaking about their mental health challenges and open up about the pressures they’re facing.

But efforts shouldn’t stop there; companies need to provide ongoing support rather than just reacting to issues when they arise. Keeping older employees on-side means showcasing how the business can reduce their stress – not add to it.

Making sure staff don’t feel solely responsible for managing their mental health is essential. Businesses can start by creating a forum where employees and managers can discuss ways to reduce the pressures they’re facing.

Chats like these are vital and need to happen regularly. The less face time staff have with their line managers, the more likely that concerns will go unnoticed – leading to disengagement and potential departures. With older employees, a routine meeting that provides an opportunity to discuss mental health alongside any other concerns will help normalise the conversation and allow staff to speak up.

It’s not just a one off

Providing initiatives that support employees’ mental health is one thing, but businesses also need to communicate this information to their staff. Awareness days and company-wide programmes are a great way to open up these conversations, but it’s important to keep it going once the initial excitement is over.

If the points raised from a specific initiative or awareness day fall by the wayside, the company will quickly lose the trust of its employees. By contrast, promoting mental wellbeing and offering regular support will make it easier for everyone to discuss this topic, and also showcase the types of support that older staff can benefit from.

Normalising conversations requires a mix of good workplace practices and an open, accepting atmosphere for employees.

By mastering these practices, companies will be able to engrain mental wellbeing into the core values of the business. As a result, staff will be able to see how much of a priority it is and feel able to have these discussions with their managers and HR.

At the same time, older employees who are trying to shake the ‘don’t talk about it’ mindset will find it much easier to open up about any challenges.

Promoting positive mental health will continue to dominate workplace practices, but while younger generations may be more aware of the priority it holds for modern businesses, older staff can still struggle to engage with a topic that has so long been taboo.

Normalising conversations requires a mix of good workplace practices and an open, accepting atmosphere for employees. Making mental health a key part of the company’s values will make the entire topic a far easier one to discuss.

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Jamie Mackenzie


Read more from Jamie Mackenzie

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