Employers urged to conduct wellbeing audits to better understand the impact of insecure contracts

Temporary work is putting young people’s mental health at ‘greater risk’ than those in full-time employment, research released today has warned. 

Younger workers – those born since 1982 – in temporary roles are 29 per cent more likely to experience mental health problems compared to those in permanent jobs, the joint study from think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and Business in the Community revealed. This likelihood increases to 43 per cent among those working in part-time jobs. 

The proportion of millennials in atypical and/or insecure forms of work has risen slightly – 26 per cent are now in part-time work compared to 24 per cent in 2004. The proportion of graduates in non-professional and/or non-managerial jobs has almost doubled since 2004 to 13 per cent.

This shift in working patterns, and increasing use of zero-hours contracts, is having a tangible negative impact on young workers’ mental health, the report found. Younger workers in part-time jobs were 7 percentage points less likely than those in full-time jobs to report being satisfied with their lifeand those on zero-hours contracts were 13 percentage points more likely than those in other forms of work to experience mental ill-health. Those who believed they had more than a 50 per cent chance of losing their job were twice as likely to experience mental health problems compared to those who felt they had no chance of losing their job (24 per cent compared to 12 per cent).

Cary Cooper, 50th anniversary professor of organisational psychology and health at Manchester Business School and president of the CIPD, told People Management that the research goes against the grain in terms of what many employers presume about younger workers’ preferences.

Most think young people aren’t bothered by a less secure job, but the evidence is that they are,” said Cooper. “The solutions to what is driving workplace stress levels can only come from the young workers themselves – they are likely to be more innovative than either HR or occupational health, although both should be working to implement them. 

“Organisations need to do regular wellbeing audits with standardised psychometrics to identify if there is a problem, where it is and what the sources are, and conduct focus groups among young workers afterwards.” 

In the study more than a fifth (22 per cent) of younger graduates who are in jobs they are overqualified for reported being anxious or depressed, compared to 16 per cent of graduates in professional and/or managerial jobs. A similar proportion (21 per cent) of younger workers on low pay experienced mental health problems, compared to 16 per cent of those not on low pay.

Employees aged 18-29 were found to be twice as likely as those aged 50-59 to describe their current mental health as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’. Younger workers in part-time jobs were also 33 per cent more likely than those in full-time jobs to fall within the bottom 10 per cent of the English adult (aged 16 and above) population according to mental wellbeing, the study revealed.   

John Dean, managing director of Punter Southall Health and Protection, warned that, without the “right training, line managers are often unaware of the best way to manage someone with mental illness.

“If line managers were better trained and had the resources to proactively manage mental health, and ensure the right support, it would reduce long-term absences and tackle some of the stigma around mental illness.” 

Craig Thorley, senior research fellow at the IPPR, said government and employers needed to work together to promote better-quality jobs that maximise the benefits of flexibility, while ensuring that employees feel in control of their own working lives. “Without finding ways to support younger workers, a significant number risk becoming trapped in a cycle of low pay,” he said.

The Taylor review into modern working practices recently called forworker’ status to be renamed ‘dependent contractor’, and for a clearer legal distinction between employed and self-employed workers. The review suggested introducing a new right for those who have worked on a zero-hours contract for 12 months or longer to request fixed hours from their employers that better reflect the hours they have actually been working, as well as a right for agency workers who have been placed with the same hirer for at least 12 months to request a contract of employment.


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