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Where do you invest your well-being money? New research reveals what millennials need to strive in the workplace

In her master thesis, Johanna Seitenbach explores "How Millennials Approach and Communicate Mental Health in the Workplace". I had the pleasure to interview her for my podcast and talk about her fascinating findings.

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Based on a survey led by Kronos in 2017, interviewing 614 human resource (HR) leaders from organizations with 100 to 2,500+ employees, 46% of HR leaders say employee burnout is responsible for up to half of their annual employee turnover. While the modern workforce consists of more and more millennials, it is important to ask: what do companies need to do to improve retention rates and overall well-being for their employees?

What do companies need to do to improve retention rates and overall well-being for their employees?

Johanna Seitenbach, with 25 years old a millennial herself, works at the economic research think tank The Conference Board, who produces research in numerous corporate functions such as Corporate Communications, Labor Markets, Talent Management, and Consumer Confidence. Seitenbach recently received her Masters in Corporate Communications at Baruch College, where she produced her graduate thesis An Exploratory Study of How Millennials Approach and Communicate Mental Health in the Workplace.

We are expected to bring our whole selves to work: the good, the bad, the scared, the stressed. That’s why mental health, now more so than ever, is at the forefront.

I had the pleasure to interview Seitenbach for my podcast and talk with her about her eye-opening findings.

Julia Arndt: Give us an introduction to why you chose the subject?

Johanna Seitenbach: I chose this topic because, like many millennials that I studied and have interviewed, I have gone through my own personal mental health journey. I was fortunate to grow up in an environment that was very open and honest but I still have hiccups along the road and a lot of people I’ve talked to have as well. I think that the intersection between the workplace and home life has been blurred a lot. A lot of people are bringing their whole self to work and I was really fascinated by what that means for an employer and how they can get out of it. Why would an employer invest in these resources? Sure, it’s the right thing to do: you want to have a healthy environment and you want your employees to be happy. But there’s more to it, there’s an actual tangible investment, and I wanted to get to the bottom of that and see if it is really as important as I think it is for the majority of millennials. Millennials are the biggest working generation, they are being leaders and executives now, and if companies are not in tune with what they want, there is a lot of disconnect.

Julia Arndt: What was your approach and how many people did you survey for your study?

Johanna Seitenbach: I surveyed 254 people across the US from different job backgrounds with a 20-question survey. For this study, I defined a millennial as anyone from the ages of 22 to 38.

43% of millennials would choose to take a pay cut to implement their top three mental health initiatives.

Julia Arndt: What were your biggest findings?

Johanna Seitenbach: In line with my hypothesis, my biggest findings were that millennials want their employer to walk the talk. 64% of millennials believe that a company needs to be cognizant and aware of their employees’ mental health. 57% said it is most important to them that the companies they work for have proper resources in place to work with their mental health. Millennials are expecting their employer to know what’s going on and also be proactive about it. They expect them to put two initiatives in place: address the issues that are happening and prevent them from happening. What is also really important is that they are authentic and they are in line with the company’s strategy. Another one is that mental health days and flexible work environments are most wanted by millennials. 60% of millennials associate a positive mental health culture with one that incorporates a flexible work environment. Mental health is not just about having access to therapists 24/7, it’s not about paying for therapy or a HR benefit. Mental health programs are something that companies really need to put at the forefront of their overall strategy because millennials can find it elsewhere. It’s no longer a competitive advantage. So if it’s not there, the millennial workforce will notice, and it will take away from their work experience and their productivity. I was shocked to know that 22% of companies still don’t have anything in place around mental health, according to the respondents.

Mental health is not an option, it’s a necessity.

Julia Arndt: In your thesis, you also focused on what kind of communication mediums were preferred by millennials. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Johanna Seitenbach: Communication is really important because you can invest so much money, so many resources for the top initiatives but if the employees don’t know about it, it only goes so far. The best way to reach employees is to have a diversified communication approach. Email was the number one overall preferred platform. It’s easy, it’s not very time-consuming. It can happen many times, it can be repetitive. The second one was teams, like for example creating awareness and addressing issues in team meetings. Having that in-person conversation really helps. I had a manager that said, you don’t really process information unless you’ve heard it six times. If it’s six emails, it’s not going to be as effective as two emails and two in-person meetings, one externally provided training and one company-wide meeting.

Three out of every four millennials said that they are more likely to purchase a product or service knowing the company has a strong mental health culture.

Julia Arndt: Did you have any findings that you didn’t expect and surprised you?

Johanna Seitenbach: The one that I did not get correct is that millennials would not take a pay cut to implement their top three mental health initiatives. But I was pretty wrong. 43% of millennials would choose to take a pay cut to implement their top three mental health initiatives. Those top three initiatives were (1) mental health days and a flexible work environment at 67%, (2) HR benefits plan with mental health specific resources at 55% and (3) manager trust and empathy training at 40%. Furthermore, 74% of millennials are more likely to apply for a job knowing that the company has a strong mental health culture. That’s talent, that’s money, that’s progress, that’s everything, and I think that’s huge. And that’s on the internal side. I also asked from an external standpoint. Would you be more likely to buy a product or service if you knew the company had a strong mental health culture? And three out of every four millennials said that they are more likely to purchase a product or service knowing the company has a strong mental health culture, which I think is incredible. Because it’s not only the internal strategy, but it’s also the external one. If you increase sales, it can boost your reputation and that in turn can increase stock prices.

74% of millennials are more likely to apply for a job knowing that the company has a strong mental health culture.

Julia Arndt: Why do you think millennials think more about mental health programs and make it a priority for their job choice?

Johanna Seitenbach: Why I think mental health programs are important for millennials is that there is a limited work-life separation now as much as there was back in the day. Today, we are expected to bring our whole self to work: the good, the bad, the ugly, the scared, the stressed, you know, everything. Because of that, because we are being contacted at crazy hours, you can get emails at three in the morning and phone calls at seven at night, because we are always kind of feeling like we have to be on, it’s harder to separate the two, and the two worlds are meshing more now than they ever have before. It’s globalization, different time zones, too. I know when we partner with people in other countries, we have to stay on later, they have to stay on later. I think that’s really why mental health, now so more than ever, it’s really just such an important topic. Besides that there are also extreme technological changes. There is this great study about the art of perfectionism, and the question of when we are ever gonna be perfect. Every generation wants to be more perfect than the other, and it’s very telling because there are a lot of outsourcing of jobs and the whole idea that AI and robots can replace humans. The idea of perfectionism is really on the shoulders of a lot of millennials and they feel that pressure. Because of that, perfectionism comes at a cost: it’s really hard to be sufficient and on all the time, get your work done, and also take care of your mental health. That is why it is more important than ever for companies to invest both in preventive and curative programs to hire and keep top talent.

Listen to the full interview:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/how-millennials-approach-communicate-mental-health/id1448604863?i=1000463822622

Watch the full interview:

Read Seitenbach’s thesis: https://academicworks.cuny.edu/bb_etds/91/

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