Health Shield Friendly Society has found that the youngest employees in the workforce, those aged 18 to 24, who should in theory be the fittest members of the workforce, are the ones that are struggling most with their health.

The health cash plan provider’s latest research uncovered that 18 to 24-year-olds take three more sick days on average each year than their older peers.

Examining the results in more detail revealed that this age group took the most time off for mental health issues. This compares to those aged 55-64 who rarely take time off for mental health reasons.

This might suggest that the younger people are struggling more with their mental health, or simply that they feel more comfortable citing mental health as a reason for absence.

Financial concerns are at the forefront

It appears that significant worries over their finances could be contributing to these higher levels of sickness absence. In the survey, 44 percent of employees in this age group stated that they worry about money every day.

This was higher than for any other age group. It reflects the difficulty that young people are facing, dealing with the impact of steeply rising prices at the outset of their careers. Many will lack savings to fall back on and are likely to have significant debts accrued through higher education. According to Deloitte’s Global 2022 Survey, 46 percent of Gen Zs live pay cheque to pay cheque.

What about the cost-of-living crisis?

The true extent of the pressure this age group is currently under is revealed by the fact that a staggering nine out of 10 said in the survey that the cost of living crisis is as worrying or more worrying than the Covid pandemic. After three years of turbulence, this uncertainty is hitting younger people hard and employers should be aware that extra support may be needed to deal with the impact on their mental health.

The latest figures from the HSE for 2021/2 underline how mental health in the workplace has deteriorated. Stress, depression and anxiety are now the leading causes of work-related ill-health. In 2021/2 the rate was higher than pre-Covid levels and 451,000 new cases were reported in the year.

Health Shield’s own data from their EAP supports this. 47 percent of all calls are related to mental health. This is far higher than for any other issue. Almost 25 percent of calls are from those aged between 20 and 29. This compares to under 15 percent of calls from those aged 50 to 59.

Urgent need for better mental health support

Supporting better mental health in the young is both vital and urgent. Millennials, those aged 27 to 42, are the generation that are currently experiencing the highest rate of burnout. Nearly half of this age group say they have left a job because they felt burnt out. If poor mental health in Gen Zs is not addressed, it could mean these rates climb even higher, with more people exiting the workforce in their late 20s and 30s just when they should be looking to build their careers.

With inflation in the UK still standing at over 10 percent driven to a large extent by the rising cost of groceries, there appears to be little respite from money worries for young people any time soon. Offering workplace benefits that can help address these stresses and anxieties will be key. 

Matt Liggins, Head of Wellbeing at Health Shield, commented:

“Our survey has highlighted a real concern over the health of the youngest members of the workforce. Those aged 18 to 24 should be in the best of health, yet they are taking significantly more sickness absence than much older counterparts. While it may be that younger people are more willing to be open about their struggles with mental health – saying a lot about progress made by employers to remove traditional stigma – these findings do suggest it is a serious issue that employers should be addressing urgently. 

“Finances seem to be a major cause of 18-24-year-olds’ mental health struggles. The cost of living crisis is affecting them deeply and with prices and interest rates continuing to rise, this is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. 

“It is the responsibility of employers to step up and support all their employees at this difficult time, but it makes sense to focus on those that need it the most. These young people will become the leaders of the future so it’s vital that they build resilience now, helping them to cope with the stresses of modern life. Health Cash Plans, which include mental health support, offer an affordable way for employers to support the health of all their employees quickly and easily when it is needed.”






Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.