Much has been made of the current cohort of millennials. They have caused inter-generational friction just as every generation before them has. Their own unique brand of problems with the modern world plastered over every nook and cranny of social and print media.
On the 16th July this year, Google’s Hackney/Islington-border-straddling campus hosted hundreds of young people invited from various start-ups dotted around London. This mini-exodus is something not uncommon in 2017, drawing the under 30s like an electromagnet by their sanctified buzz-phrase- mental health.
It’s easy to laugh at the current version of young people in the UK: the snowflakes and their safe spaces. However, we learn much more from engaging with them rather than dismissing them. I would say that, though, I am one.
Google, Channel 4, and a host of other big names came together in the name of mental health. The gist of the conference was essentially this: The more we speak about mental health, the better we will understand it. There were talks surrounding the very nature of depression, anxiety, bipolar and borderline. It was an educational day.
The focus, primarily, was on anxiety and depression; two mental health issues that can arise from continued and intense stress. There were discussions that if you had suffered from anxiety attacks or sustained, clinical depression in the past then you should be honest and disclose this information to your employer, so that they can best accommodate you.
However the employer-employee relationship is not one sided and the ‘safe spaces’ implemented in various universities around the country have taken on new life and now there is an outcry for them to be a regular feature at work. Obviously this is an ideal scenario in theory but the logistics of creating a safe space, separate from the working environment are bound to raise a few eyebrows amongst the more practical-minded.
Okay, so maybe everyone piling out of the office bang on midday to go lay on some yoga mats to de-stress isn’t going to happen, especially in the start-up community who struggle for enough space to work as it is. So what are our options?
Technically, the workplace itself should be a safe space, according to the speakers. It should be an environment with a fluid flow of information with no judgments, with solutions to problems worked out through compromise and negotiation. Again, lovely in theory but this utopian destiny for the workplace is unlikely to come to fruition, no matter how hard we try.
A solution I liked the sound of was giving those who suffer from anxiety and depression the option to take a break for 10 minute intervals. The argument was that if there is an unofficial rule for smokers taking a break then why not for everyone else? Technically all workers over the age of 18 are allowed a break during their working day but very few people take it unless they have a certified excuse (smoking).
Employers should be encouraged to let their workers go for breaks, especially if they have already disclosed their tendency towards depression or anxiety. These should be opportunities for the effected party to diffuse the build up of stress. This is a pretty basic solution but likely to be an efficient one. This way, the tapestry of the working day is punctured by closed-circuit moments of calm. You can make anywhere your safe space, with enough time.
The overriding message of the conference seemed to echo the sentiments currently being expressed by generations Y and Z on social media; that communication is the solution. Whether you are a worker, a boss, a teacher, a student, a colleague or even a friend; talk to those around you. It will do them good.
So, what do I conclude? That the workplace is set for earth-shattering changes in the coming years? That millennials will overthrow previous generations, implementing some radical social change, unforeseeable except for a chosen few? It’s unlikely. What I can tell you is, these attitudes towards mental health and the workplace are here to stay, for a long time to come.