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Always on: ‘Permanent connectivity’ has been identified as having negative health consequences
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With his firm but compassionate gaze, it is easy to imagine Sean Maywood in his previous career as a teacher at a secondary school in south-east England. Since 2016, however, he has been the “first-five-year manager” at PwC, the auditing and consulting firm, where he supports hundreds of graduates recruited each year in the UK.

The creation of the post reflects a growing recognition among employers of the need to do more to support young recruits. Like other accountancy firms, PwC not only hires a high number of graduates, it also experiences significant turnover among their ranks because so many quit early in their careers.

Justine Campbell, managing partner for talent at EY UK and Ireland, one of PwC’s rivals, says: “We have just launched a new student recruitment process that aims to make ‘onboarding’ a smoother process. Our research showed that employers can make a difference in bridging the transition from education to employment for the next generation of employees.”

This year’s data from Britain’s Healthiest Workplace underline the extent of pressures being suffered by some of the youngest members of the workforce. The research shows 18- to 20-year-olds are the most vulnerable of all age groups, with disproportionately higher mental health concerns, and lower performance and engagement.

25.7%

of employees aged 18 to 20 smoke

The study reveals that 17.2 per cent suffer from depression — more than double the average for other age groups in the workforce. They are more than twice as likely to say they have been the victims of bullying and are more likely to say they have serious financial concerns.

The study found the 18-20 age group shows the greatest proportion of other risk factors for health and wellbeing. A quarter smoke, more than half report sleep problems and three-quarters confess they do not eat the recommended minimum of five portions a day of fruit and vegetables.

It is not surprising, given the other data, that this age group loses more productive time than any other because of absenteeism and presenteeism (when employees come to work but are ineffective due to ill health or distraction), at nearly 46 days a year; the average for all other age groups is just over 35.

53.3%

of 18- to 20-year olds have problems with sleep

Maywood at PwC believes today’s young adults have begun to show certain traits that are different from those in previous generations, including a greater sense of entitlement and increased dependence on others because their parents have been more involved in directing their lives than their predecessors’ parents were.

He also singles out the negative consequences of “permanent connectivity” of mobile phones and the internet, along with growing financial pressures.

Like many businesses of its type, PwC has an employee assistance programme and career coaches. Yet Maywood says recruits can feel hesitant talking to managers and others who also oversee their performance and professional development. He therefore provides an additional “unofficial, confidential service”.

76.1%

of 18- to 20-year olds don’t eat at least 5 fruit and veg per day

He points to the importance of integrating young employees into support networks, including ones at PwC for people from different backgrounds, such as Chinese and Russians. “They need to build their own networks that connect outwards to their peers in other departments so they link to others at their own level, as well as upwards and downwards,” he says.

Campbell says EY is responding in a similar way. “Increased stress is often synonymous with starting a new job, so we also provide our student recruits with a buddy and a counsellor to help them navigate the organisation in their early days,” she says. “They can help them to access the support mechanisms we have in place.”

She also stresses the importance of preparing recruits from the start with job simulations and a chance to meet their peers and other employees. “This helps to set their expectations before they even walk through the door on their first day,” she says. Doing so might also mean fewer turn round and walk back out too soon in their new careers.

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