Young Workers Are Scared Of 'Snowflake' Label For Taking Mental Health Sick Days

More than half of younger employees report having a mental illness – but ‘snowflake’ stigma is preventing them from seeking help at work.

We might be more likely to talk about our mental health these days, but in your average workplace young employees still feel unable to discuss it with their managers through fear of being labelled part of the “snowflake” generation.

Half of all UK workers say they have experienced mental illness, according to new research – and this rises to 72% of Gen Z workers (defined as 18-22 year olds in the study) and 58% of millennials (22-34 year olds).

The research, by graduate job board Milkround, found fear of being labelled a “snowflake” puts employees off seeking support from their managers or taking a mental health sick day – this was the case in half of all respondents, but rose to 75% for Gen Z respondents and 58% for millennials.

Samantha, 33, from London, has OCD and anxiety and while she has taken days off when she needs them, she has never been open with her employers or colleagues about the reason.

“I simply don’t believe that some people wouldn’t judge you for it,” she says. “I work in a fast-paced industry and there’s a twisted pride in being able to cope with the workload. So if you say you’re not coping with it, I would be concerned that people would call me a ‘snowflake’ or something similar.”

Samantha says her experience is made worse by the fact people think OCD is just about being tidy. “When I was younger, the ‘name-calling’ element was more of a worry, but now I worry more about professional opportunities,” she says.

The research surveyed 2,000 respondents representative of the UK working population, plus an extra 500 Gen Z workers. In total, 63% said they didn’t realise there’s no legal difference between a sick day and a mental health sick day. And the majority of respondents (77%) believe that steps should be put in place in the workplace to make people more comfortable in taking a mental health sick day.

Nisha, 23, from London, felt unable to open up about her mental health when she was struggling with an eating disorder alongside anxiety and low self-esteem, despite the fact it was impacting her work.

“I never felt completely comfortable talking about it.”

“I found myself unable to focus on the task at hand and the low self-esteem impacted my confidence at work,” Nisha says. “I spent most days at my desk second guessing whether what I was doing was right.

“I was also anxious about anything around food that was happening at work, including eating with others or in front of others during the day. I never felt completely comfortable talking about it and I was constantly afraid my manager would bring it up and treat me differently.”

She didn’t take a mental health sick day – she didn’t know they existed – but she took days off ‘sick’ to deal with her mental health. Once she had taken time off and was in recovery, Nisha felt able to tell her new manager about her experience.

And now she knows about mental health sick days, she says: “I’d be much more open with work about taking one, the reasons why, and would encourage others to do the same.”

Under the Equality Act 2010, mental health problems that have “a substantial adverse effect on normal day-to-day activities” are classed as a disability, so your employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments. These can include allowing you to take time off for your mental health.

Richard Grange, from the Mental Health Foundation, previously told HuffPost UK regular 1-2-1s between managers and employers can help create an open environment for discussing mental health.

For anyone feeling worried about speaking about their mental health at work, Grange said a first step can be identifying someone you trust to open up to.

“You may want to think about what you want to say, who to and when a good time and place to do it is,” he said. “But if you are open about how you feel at work, you might help others to do the same and help create a culture where people feel able to talk about mental health.”

Useful websites and helplines:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
  • The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: help@themix.org.uk
  • Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.