Last week we launched our Graduate Health Programme at an event, hosted by CMHA member KPMG. The programme is designed to support better mental health for students, create awareness of graduate mental health issues and share academic backed practical recommendations for universities and businesses on how to help students transition into the workplace. At the event, the audience heard powerful stories from great speakers from the University of Cambridge, Bank of England, KPMG and the Thriving from the Start Network Committee. Here we outline the key takeaways from the event and conclude with the CMHA’s four commitments to improving graduate health.
Mental health support at university
Universities are facing a growing challenge in supporting student mental health with demands rising and resources remaining largely unchanged. For example, Catherine Alexander from Cambridge University outlined that 35 students reported mental health problems in 2008. This year the number is more than 1,000 and is forecast to grow. In response, universities are increasing their support for students but resources are limited and staff are seeing their job remits expand far beyond their traditional requirements.
Transitioning into the workplace
Despite the increasing services on offer at university, and the services offered by businesses, the transition from university to the workplace remains a high-risk period. Our research shows 70% of graduates have experienced mental health issues yet many (76%) are unaware that prospective employers offer mental health or wellbeing services. At the same time, 64% said they believed disclosing past or current mental health issues will hinder their chances of securing their first job. It is therefore not surprising that many graduates would choose not to disclose a mental health issue to their employer or choose not to apply to the company in the first place.
The fact remains that businesses ultimately want to hire the best talent. Talent is what separates businesses and if employers can’t provide places where people can be supported and thrive then businesses will lose out. Businesses are now realising that they need to support people to be the healthiest version of themselves and this is what graduates want too. However, as CMHA Deputy Chair Beth Robotham pointed out, many students use a company’s online channels to decide whether the organisiation is the right fit for them. However, this is before an organisation feels like it has properly engaged with people. Therefore, whilst many businesses have excellent support programmes in place, there clearly needs to be greater communication from businesses as to how they support employees with their health. Our research revealed this would be welcomed by graduates with 83% saying they would be more likely to apply to an employer who is open about its commitment to mental health
The consequence of perfectionism
One theme discussed during the panel was the issue of perfectionism. The panellists identified perfectionism as a key driving factor behind depression and anxiety amongst students with many feeling pressure to be perfect. This can manifest as a belief that anything less than a 2-1 from university or a job rejection when transitioning into the workplace is a failure. At work, this is perpetuated with performance often ranked against peers and any mistake can be deemed as a threat to a successful career. This can be paralysing.
CMHA Chair Brian Heyworth called for businesses to be more authentic in the way they are positioning themselves at the recruitment process. Businesses are too often presenting themselves as perfect, glossy environments. However, this is not realistic, and people, therefore, come into the workplace not prepared for the reality of it. What’s more, as Anastasia Vinnikova from the Bank of England pointed out, if employers put out an image that they only recruit the perfect person, they will lose out on those people who don’t perceive themselves as perfect, missing out on many talented individuals. To break down this perception, more storytelling is needed. Everyone has experiences of failure, but it is rarely spoken about. Panel host Shalah Akhtar from PWC called for everyone to be more open about their stories of failure.
There was a consensus from all attendees that, to create systemic, long term cultural change, to break down stigmas and help our young people flourish, organisations all need to work together. Universities and businesses can collaborate to share best practice to ensure that our young people, and their mental health, are nurtured as they transition into the workplace.
The CMHA wants workplaces to be health creating environments. Improving the transition into the workplace is very much a part of this. The commitments from the CMHA on improving graduate health therefore are:
- To create and lead on setting industry recruitment standards for companies, that will promote and protect the mental health of new joiners
- To support members to run authentic recruitment campaigns that provide a real view of what work is
- To collaborate and share knowledge with higher education ecosystem
- To create guides for parents to help them support young people at key life points
As we sat in a room full of representatives from universities, businesses and mental health experts it was clear there is real excitement and commitment from everyone to work together. We look forward to continuing this work and delivering on our commitments to help support people as they transition into the workplace.