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Working places central to alleviate mental ill-health among young people


“When line managers can learn how to meet the needs of young people, they will have the key to contribute to positive mental health,” says Sven Svensson, researcher in occupational health at the University of Gävle.

Sven Svensson

We have seen that sickness absences increase among young people, and mental ill-health is now the most common reason for sick leave. As a result, researchers have decided to study the trade sector which employs a great number of young people.

“Since they are new on the labour market, young people tend to feel uncertain about what is expected from them at work. We would now like to study if such feelings of insecurity can explain young people’s increased risk for mental disorders.”

Becoming an adult involves feeling insecure

In general, adolescence is a period characterised by feelings of insecurity, Svensson claims. The reason is that we need to make so many decisions and find out who we are and who to be on the labour market. Moreover, the labour market today is also characterised by uncertainty to a large extent. There are short-term contracts and new types of employments that we have never seen before.

“Back in the seventies, there were jobs available when you had finished upper secondary school, so you could structure your life and see a future. But when young people enter the labour market today, that type of continuity and security cannot be found and this increases their feelings of insecurity.”

You have to be employable

Researchers have determined that to tackle a fragmentised and uncertain labour market, you need skills that make you employable in very many different contexts and that presupposes continuous learning at work.

“We could help reduce their feelings of insecurity. Learning is central to young people and that could make them feel that they have something to contribute with and that their position is secure.”

Managers have an important role to play

Managers have an important role to play, Sven points out. Apart from leading and distributing work in a fair and just manner, managers need to provide skills development and learning at work.

“Skills development is a very important concern. We should all be given the opportunity to develop so that we can feel self-confident at work. Being able to use our creative potential, to continuously learn and to perform in various ways enable us to feel good and develop.”

Young people want more out of a job

According to Sven, studies show that young people today have a different attitude to work and that they have other needs. They value work that gives something back to them personally, with higher degrees of autonomy and opportunities to influence and a leadership orientated towards social relations.

“We suspect that they need a leadership which is orientated more towards the individual, with more encouragement, and which gives individual employees more opportunities for self- development and for acquiring new skills. To date, there are few studies here, so there is a strong incentive to gain deeper knowledge. When line managers can learn how to meet the needs of young people, they will have the key to contribute to positive mental health.”

The four-year long project ”Ett hållbart arbetsliv för unga vuxna” was awarded 3,5 million SEK by AFA Insurance. Researchers from the University of Gävle, Mid Sweden University and Luleå University of Technology together focus on what young people need so we can enable and provide them with a sustainable working life.

För mer information, kontakta:
Sven Svensson, senior lecturer in occupational health at the University of Gävle
Phone: 070-279 22 06
Email: sven.svensson@hig.se

Text: Douglas Öhrbom
photo: Anna Sällberg

Published by: Douglas Öhrbom Page responsible: Anders Munck Updated: 2019-03-22
Högskolan i Gävle
Box 801 76 GÄVLE
026-64 85 00 (växel)