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Since 2020, the COVID-19 global pandemic has shaped what every day looks like. It changed human interaction. For higher education, it fundamentally altered the college experience for students who were sent home for multiple semesters. In the workforce, it took people from the corporate office to the home office. Unsurprisingly, all of this change and stress affected mental health. But it also created a space for important conversations to happen around health and well-being.
According to a recent national survey by TimelyCare, college students who are graduating with the class of 2022 and entering the workforce are some of the most affected when it comes to mental health and their preparedness to enter the workforce. In light of these survey results, TimelyCare’s Gen Ztressed webinar series featured a panel discussion on the topic of mental health, the college experience for this unique class of students, and students’ thoughts about entering the workforce after graduation.
The Gen Ztressed panelists included:
- Andy Chan, VP for Innovation and Career Development at Wake Forest University
- Christine Cruzvergara, Chief Education Strategy Officer at Handshake
- Luke Hejl, CEO and Co-Founder of TimelyCare
- Seli Fakorzi, Director of Mental Health at TimelyCare
- Moderator: Paul Fein, Founder and Editor at The Job and Contributing Editor at Work Shift
Here’s what they had to say about how the Class of 2022 feels entering the workforce, the state of their mental health, and what they’re looking for from employers.
Responding to the ongoing college mental health crisis
The pandemic cast a bright light on the mental health crisis impacting college students. It also made college and university leaders take a closer look at mental health resources and what support was available for students both on- and off-campus. What’s clear is that students need support both inside and outside of the classroom to thrive both academically and mentally.
During the panel discussion, Fakorzi said that student mental health was a significant issue and concern on college campuses prior to the pandemic. Though students are more resilient as a result of the pandemic, they still need support. According to Fakorzi, one of the biggest learnings is that students need –and often expect – to be able to reach out for support at all hours of the day. So, it’s important to offer students options.
Crises don’t always happen while an on-campus health center is open, and often an emergency room or urgent care visit is out of the question for college students who can’t afford the medical bills. By offering 24/7, virtual mental health resources, you can actively support students whenever they need it.
Prepare students for post-graduation life
Mental health concerns don’t disappear after a student graduates
Fein noted the alarming stat that 76% of bachelor’s degree students who considered stopping out in the past six months say emotional stress was a reason. However, Cruzvergara said that, instead of being surprised by this statistic, it was important for employers to understand the issues that are happening in college. These concerns and emotional stress don’t disappear or go away once students receive their diplomas. These issues come with them to the workforce.
Though conversations around mental health continue to increase and the stigma of seeking care is lessening on college campuses, that openness and willingness to communicate doesn’t always continue into corporate America. But that can change as a new generation of college graduates enter the workforce.
5 ways to support college graduates entering the workforce
As employers prepare to welcome the class of 2022 to their ranks, consider these five ways that employers can make sure these new employees feel supported.
1. Offer flexible working options
A one-size-fits-all approach is not typically what works best for how people work. Plus, students are looking for flexibility when it comes to work hours and environment. Cruzvergara mentioned that 50% of Black and Latinx women prefer a virtual environment because they are able to avoid issues such as microaggressions. Hejl shared that only about half of TimelyCare employees are located close to the Fort Worth headquarters, with many people working across the country. It’s a fact that remote and hybrid jobs get significantly more applicants. Employees want you to trust them, and they see flexibility as a huge perk.
2. Empower employees to take mental health days
As the push toward making mental health days just as important as physical sick days continues, offering mental health days to employees helps with retention and minimizes burnout. It also allows employees to feel comfortable and confident that how they’re doing mentally is important to their employers.
3. Integrate mentorship programs
Hejl discussed the importance of mentorship in a business. How are you encouraging employees, no matter their ages or titles, to find mentors within your company? Mentorship can lead to an increase in self-confidence, job satisfaction, loyalty to a company, and a feeling of fulfillment.
4. Focus on culture and recruiting
Culture isn’t something that’s created one day, and then it’s done. There are iterations and changes that must happen as your company and employees continue to grow. Hejl recognized that there are layers to culture, and it’s important to think about how you’re taking care of employees. Work-life balance must be more than a buzzword added to your website. It must be practiced so that it’s integral to the success of your company through employees that are less stressed and more satisfied with their work.
5. Evaluate programs annually (or more)
Chan noted how important it is to be reflective of what programs and resources you’ve implemented, as well as what you have planned for the future. It’s important to be persistent because what worked one year or one quarter might not work for the next year or quarter. Similar to a budget review, make sure you’re taking a look at what you’re doing to support employees.
The resources needed to ensure students thrive through the college-to-workforce transition
The first step is having the resources that employees (and students) need to thrive. But educating a workforce to know how to access the resources is different. Resources, such as healthcare (i.e. access to mental and medical virtual care), career resources or even extracurriculars (like an employer-sponsored team) are great places to start. Again, what works for one person might not work for another employee/student. According to Hejl, it’s important to offer a wide variety of options and support resources.
Now that you have the resources for your employees, the next step is to help them navigate and utilize what’s available. Hejl mentioned that though this might be a wake-up call for some employers, sometimes these resources that you’ve put a ton of time and money into are neglected because people aren’t sure how to access them. Whether you’re in higher education or working in corporate America, it’s imperative to plan how best to support employees, select the right resources and educate them on how to utilize what’s available.
To hear more from these career readiness and mental health experts, watch the panel discussion on Gen Ztressed – Catch 2022: Students, Jobs, and Mental Health. If you’re a higher education leader who wants to proactively support the next-generation workforce, contact TimelyCare to learn more about how a virtual health and well-being platform can help students thrive and transform your campus.