Millennials hit hard by depression in the workplace


Research suggests younger generations lack the necessary supports to deal with the pace of change in the workforce.

A growing body of research suggests millennials are experiencing higher rates of depression than any other generation in the workplace.

With millennials representing the largest cohort of workers, the social and economic impacts of higher depression rates are staggering. The Conference Board of Canada identified $50 billion a year in lost productivity caused by depression or anxiety-related illnesses. This includes absenteeism, when employees are away from their jobs, and presenteeism, a phenomenon where employees go to work but are not well enough (mentally and/or physically) to perform their jobs effectively.

 “The whole workforce has changed with the millennial population,” says Dr. Ian Dawe, program chief and medical doctor for Trillium Health Partners, referring to those born between 1982 and 2004. “There is immense pressure to compete to be good, to make career decisions early in life and I think that sense of pressure is squarely on the millennials’ shoulders.”

Research conducted by human resources consulting and technology company Morneau Shepell found roughly one-third of the Canadian workforce is struggling with depression and anxiety.

Studying 1,019 Canadians working in a variety of industries, Morneau Shepell found those under the age of 30 were two times more likely to take a mental health sick leave.

“The younger the age group, the more stress they are under,” says Paula Allen, vice-president of research and integrative solutions for Morneau Shepell.

Pace of societal change and the erosion of social supports were identified as the primary reasons why younger generations are experiencing mental health issues.

“We have a pretty fast-moving society right now, with heavy demands and high expectations,” says Allen, adding when people have high expectations it is less likely they will be able to achieve their goals.  

The cost of housing is a prime example of this gap between expectation and reality. Following the example set by their baby boomer parents, millennials are expected to attend post-secondary school, find a good-paying job, buy a house and start a family.

However, the average student debt level in Canada is $25,000, the job market is precarious and the cost of housing in the GTA has made home ownership a pipe dream for younger generations.

And when millennials do enter the workforce, organizational changes are further eroding their sense of job security, says Allen. This includes team restructuring, downsizing, layoffs, job redesign, redesign of the physical office space and mergers.

“It’s like a relationship,” says Allen. “Organizations can weather these times if it’s a good relationship, rather than a shaky one.”

However, it will depend on organizations to understand the impact of these changes on its employees and consider the best way to provide support.

“Mental health has to be built right into the business culture,” says Allen.

This includes providing mental health training, facilitating team discussions, performance reviews that focus on emotional development, managing workloads and rewarding exemplary effort.

“Mental health has always been reactionary,” says Dawe. “But I think these conversations give us an opportunity to think into the future and create a healthier community.”


By: Rachael Williams