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Supporting graduate wellbeing in their transition to employment

October 2018

Removing negative stigma around mental health issues and encouraging openness in the workplace could help graduates struggling to adjust

What are the main mental health concerns of recent graduates moving from study in to work?

Zoe Mitchell and Heather Davenport, people and culture team at Prospects: Quite often this will be a graduate's first experience of work, so all the general worries about starting a new job will apply - are they going to fit in, where are they going to be working, what will the job entail, will they be financially secure and will they be able to pay off their debt?

Also, if they are moving away from home to work, they may question where they are going to live and whether they will make friends.

Tom Boldy, attendance and intervention officer at Leeds City College: Students have concerns regarding job security, making new relationships, the pressures of succeeding, meeting targets and managing workloads. Graduates need support that is visible and accessible to them if they feel like they can't cope with the demands of working life or are struggling to adjust.

Emma Pollard, principal research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies: The continuity of support may be a concern, as graduates move from a familiar, supportive environment into the unknown, with a different set of pressures.

This can be intensified if individuals relocate - moving from wider support networks (friends, family) and from established healthcare support (GPs, counselling etc.). Students in HE can be provided with considerable support, such as access to counselling and assessment processes (for example extra time), and they may have concerns about whether this level of support can be maintained in a working environment.

Siân Duffin, student support manager at Arden University: Social anxiety is a common concern as students move out of the safety of long-established friendship groups into unknown workplaces. Many suffer from 'imposter syndrome' as they enter employment, where they might fear that someone will find them out as not being good enough, even though in many cases they have achieved great academic results.

Beth Robotham, executive director at Goldman Sachs and vice chair of the City Mental Health Alliance: The combination of a new home, a different commute, managing finances, adapting to new work habits and quickly building new relationships can put new pressures on graduates. Research from the City Mental Health Alliance revealed that 49% of students admitted their mental health declined after leaving university. We want to change that.

What steps does your organisation take to tackle these concerns and help graduates with the transition?

Zoe and Heather: We keep in touch with new team members during the run up to when they officially join the company. If they are relocating, we offer advice on where to live. We provide a thorough induction and training programme so they know what they are doing and how they are going to do it.

In addition to this, Prospects provides advice and guidance to support graduates with their progression into employment and lists other websites/organisations where they can find information.

Tom: A learning support officer has been in post at the University Centre for the past two years. This year, there's been an appointment of a welfare officer for student drop-in sessions and I work in one of the departments as a safeguarding intervention officer, offering one-to-one support. The college has also been improving the education of staff by offering awareness sessions during staff development days.

Siân: We provide a dedicated careers service for students and alumni which includes a section on mental health, spotting the signs, coping with stress and how to have a conversation about mental health with your employer. A series of careers seminars also focuses on how to prepare for the world of work. We provide access to StudentLine, a dedicated mental health service students can access to receive support and be signposted to other organisations.

Shefali Gera, EMEA Head of Wellness at Goldman Sachs: To help graduates transition to work we tackle the topic right from the start, with resilience awareness sessions and wellbeing services onsite such as our gym, a global wellbeing app and psychologists. We also hold ongoing awareness-raising sessions, such as Rethinking Mental Health with expert speaker Johnny Benjamin MBE, manager training to build healthy teams, blog posts, webcasts and podcasts on a range of wellbeing topics.

We collaborate with other City Mental Health Alliance (CMHA) members to share knowledge and innovate to find ways to tackle the silence and stigma that can exist in the workplace. We want our people to know that it is okay to ask for help.

How can/should universities better prepare students for the workplace?

Emma: Universities and colleges focus strongly on employability and preparation for the workplace, and support for disabled students is not just focused on entry and induction but the whole student lifecycle including transitions to employment. The move towards more joined-up support and services in higher education may allow providers to combine employability support with support for disabled students, offering a holistic approach to encourage a more diverse student body.

Universities could provide tailored support sessions for students with disabilities on key aspects of graduate recruitment/transitions to employment, such as interview preparation and disclosure.

Working with employers is also important - sharing experiences and helping employers understand the support that HE may provide to some of their graduate recruits.

Siân: At Arden University, we focus on solving real-world problems with our qualifications. The applied nature of the assessments resemble, as closely as possible, issues and scenarios that may be faced in the world of work. This allows students to use what they have learned practically.

Our students usually find our course content aligns with the skills and values that employers say are commonly lacking in graduates, so by equipping them to cope with demands we reduce the anxiety caused by the unknown. Universities need to be comfortable and open in having mental health conversations. In this way, graduates can find it easier to disclose to employers that they have been experiencing mental health issues.

Janine Glasenberg, EMEA Head of Campus Recruiting at Goldman Sachs: We interact with thousands of students each year and often notice the practical challenges of the transition into the workplace, which although exciting may impact their resilience. Many will be familiarising themselves with the structure of a full working week and receiving ongoing, real-time feedback, which is a lot to adjust to. Some universities provide mental health awareness training to students which will make a big difference in helping them navigate these changes.

According to a survey run by student and graduate careers app Debut, only 15% graduates described the mental health support provided by their employer as 'good'. What should graduate employers be doing to improve this?

Zoe and Heather: Wellbeing is a very important focus for us and we offer a number of services to support our employees. I would advise companies to have a wellbeing champion and space away from the work environment to encourage honest discussion, so talking about their issues becomes less taboo. We have 'time to talk' days (outside of one-to-ones) and an Employee Assistance programme with a counselling helpline. We also offer onsite therapies to enable staff to recharge.

Tom: Employers could increase this statistic by enrolling their workplace onto the Mental Health First Aid course that has been created and developed by the government. This course explains how to assist with supporting a fellow colleague, friend or student who is living with symptoms of different mental illnesses.

Workplaces could also introduce team meetings that focus on talking openly about issues at work or in their lives that can be shared and addressed with others, in order to show support and a develop a safe environment, so people don't feel so isolated and alone with their thoughts.

Sally Wilson, senior research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies: Employers should make it clear how occupational health works, and what HR is there to do, as well as signpost to services such as Employee Assistance programmes (EAPs) and any internal mental health champions, Mental Health First Aiders and (in)formal support networks.

Employers should also ensure new starters are appropriately buddied and/or mentored internally. Aim to train line managers to deal with mental wellbeing as they might not have received any training. New CIPD/Mind guidance can help with this.

Siân: To improve this statistic, graduate employers can provide a comprehensive induction that actively addresses mental health issues and sources of support in the workplace, review workload regularly to ensure it's manageable and consider providing mentors equipped through the Mental Health First Aid training, which is something we've found particularly valuable.

In general, reducing the stigma of admitting mental health challenges by being open about how many people struggle with them is likely to equally benefit employers and employees.

Beth: Ensuring managers are confident to talk to their teams about mental health is crucial part of providing support. The key is creating an open culture where people feel comfortable to talk about mental health and ask for help, without fear of consequences and stigma. The 'This is Me' video series is a great example of good practice and we provide even more in our new CMHA Guide to Thriving at Work.

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