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TimelyCare conducted a nationwide survey of over 1,000 college seniors planning to begin their careers when they graduate. Despite their overall optimism toward life after graduation, the survey revealed that nearly 7 out of 10 graduating seniors feel that the pandemic made them less prepared to enter the workforce due primarily to mental health issues. What can higher education do to better prepare students for the workforce?
What do college graduates say about their mental health?
Sixty-nine percent of survey respondents said the pandemic made them feel less prepared to enter the workforce, followed by concerns over physical health (46%) and academic struggles (41%). Clearly, the class of 2022 is still working through the effects of COVID-19.
Regarding anxiety about starting a new career, the TimelyCare survey found that 70% of graduating seniors feel stressed or anxious about entering the workforce. They report feeling most worried about finding and keeping a job (65%), supporting themselves financially (52%), and being self-reliant (49%).
All these factors resulted in 92% of graduating students believing that companies should offer mental health or emotional health benefits. Thirty-four percent said a company’s mental or emotional health benefits were just as significant for them as the availability of a 401(k) or alternative retirement plan. And, 19% said mental health benefits are more important than a company’s mission and values.
“These insights should be a wake-up call for employers,” said Luke Hejl, TimelyCare CEO and co-founder. “Despite the excellent care they may receive from virtual, on-campus, and community health centers today, college students’ mental health issues won’t vanish when they become college graduates. We must continue to prioritize their overall well-being to help the class of 2022 make a successful college-to-career transition.”
How does the mental health of students today impact the workforce tomorrow?
Early adulthood is a developmental period that has become more nuanced and difficult in recent years. These challenges and fears are a part of why today’s college graduates take longer to reach traditional life milestones such as leaving home, finishing their education, entering the workforce, gaining financial independence, committing to significant others, and becoming parents – compared to earlier generations. Young adults today face challenges, burdens, barriers, behavioral health needs, and mental illnesses that are unique to their generation – all of which can negatively impact and undermine emotional health and wellness, including but not limited to substance use disorders. (Read more about the risks of drug use from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at samhsa.gov).
These contemporary realities also mean that there are more people at work with mental health conditions than ever before. The evidence-based Stevenson/Farmer report on mental health and employers called “Thriving at Work,” reports that approximately 15% of people in workplace settings have symptoms of an existing mental health condition. Inherent consequences occur with employers who don’t attend to the mental and emotional behavioral health care of their employees. The report outlines five specific workforce planning elements on which emotional well-being has ill effects:
- Sickness absence: Employees taking days away from work due to poor emotional health.
- Presentee-ism: Employees attending work when they don’t feel emotionally well, resulting in a lack of productivity (and sometimes worsening a person’s condition).
- Limiting progression: People feel as though they won’t be able to progress professionally if they reveal struggles with emotional health.
- Impact on the wider workforce: Other team members can suffer from coworkers’ poor emotional health.
- Employee turnover: An emotionally unwell person may leave a position if they don’t feel capable of maintaining it, leading to costs for employers in recruiting and training new employees.
What does this look like at a personal level? At Handshake’s Access 2022 conference for employers and career services professionals, three students spoke about their journey with mental health. Listen to their stories.
Take proactive measures to support students' mental health journeys
What can schools do to mentally prepare students to enter the workforce?
The Jed Foundation (JED) is a nonprofit organization that protects the Nation’s behavioral public health and helps to prevent suicide in teens and young adults, giving them the competencies and support they need to thrive. To answer the question about how to mentally prepare students to enter the workforce, the organization published an extensive white paper. Here are its recommendations for health practitioners, clinicians, and social workers in higher education:
Create opportunities for students to learn skills that are simultaneously protective of emotional well-being and help prepare students to have successful careers.
Schools should adopt career counseling and student affairs models that facilitate identifying appropriate career pathways in conjunction with gaining life skills and emotional awareness that support workplace success.
Create an expectation of student commitment to college-to-career transition preparation
Career services’ activities should be focused on the college-to-career transition, and be integrated into students’ day-to-day activities. This preparation should be a requirement to graduate for all students.
Seek and incorporate student voices to create college-to-career transition support activities
Engage student liaisons to partner in developing, launching, and implementing college-to-career transition initiatives and incentives (i.e., partnerships).
Plan early for the college-to-career transition (don’t wait until senior year)
Support for the college-to-career transition should begin in the first year and be systematically integrated across all years of college life.
Emphasize emotional health and wellness, not only mental health
Behavioral health providers should frame support as “emotional health and wellness” to reinforce emotional health as part of overall health, and to address possible concerns regarding stigma and mental health.
Expand the range of campus offices engaged in educating students about the college-to-career transition
Human resources at schools should increase the capacity of their community-based workforce (e.g., faculty, residential advisors, campus security, health workers, peer support specialists, workforce shortages, etc.) through specialized education and training to understand and respond to issues and concerns specific to the college-to-career transition.
Develop targeted supports to address the unique concerns of identified student populations
Targeted support can be developed to meet the needs of unique student populations (e.g., female students, students with parents born outside the U.S., international students, students of color, and first-generation college students) that have identified increased emotional stress and concerns specific to the college-to-career transition.
What is the role of virtual care in preparing students for the workforce?
For Gen Z, the role of technology is central — they’ve never known the world without it. Boomers grew up as television evolved, Gen X grew up as the computer revolution developed, and millennials grew up during the expansion of the internet. But Gen Z is the first generation of digital natives, coming of age with technological advances and mobile devices like the smartphone. As such, online platforms and technical assistance for medical and mental health services have become the solution for expanding behavioral health services and the mental health workforce — and with good reason. PubMed studies show that virtual health can effectively treat depression, anxiety, sleep, stress, alcohol use disorders, PTSD, and eating disorders in college and university students.
Given these successes, colleges and universities should consider expanding virtual care treatment services to support students preparing to become a part of the workforce, making it clear that on-demand emotional and mental support for anxiety over internships or job interviews can be a key component in career development. Health coaching training programs for developing healthy lifestyle behaviors in preparation for leaving school – and incorporating young paraprofessionals into this coaching – could be an integral solution for helping students and recent grads in the world of work.
Telehealth has demonstrated its effectiveness in delivering the primary care needed by college students during a global pandemic. Now it’s time to implement virtual health care to support behavioral health workforce development for a new generation of workers.
Contact TimelyCare to learn how virtual care can support student mental health in workforce development.