CEI Well-Being Series, Panel #3: Building Intentional Spaces to Foster the Mental Health of Young Professionals in the Workplace

Oct 21, 2022 | #WellBeing

by Addy Strickland |

On May 18, 2022, this panel brought together Dr. Katie Aubrecht, Karn Nichols, and Kristina Waldman to discuss how our workplaces can better respond to mental health struggles, address stigma, and proactively create spaces that foster sustainable habits and promote positive well-being. Below, you’ll find the full panel recording, a list of key take-aways, and a list of panelist-suggested resources for further learning. 

Our Key Take-Aways:  

  • When youth and students work independently there is an increased feeling of isolation, and an increased struggle with onboarding and a sense of ‘belonging’ to the workplace—this can sometimes get missed. Engaging with new employers virtually is even more challenging if the young person is coming from a diverse context into a place of work which may not reflect that. Leadership needs to be intentional in understanding all these considerations. 
  • One of the hardest things for today’s youth is the ability to differentiate between personal time and work time because the distinction has been blurred significantly by the rapid advancements in technology.   
  • It’s important to consider, also, that in the present moment we are operating with a lot of global and personal inconsistencies. In an attempted ‘return to normalcy,’ what was once normal may now seem strange—we need to be conscious about shifting expectations, and of the weight of those expectations on youth. 
  • Onboarding and other processes for young workers often overlook the different knowledges and experiences that people bring, and instead puts everyone into the same box – taking a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t the best way forward. Meeting people where they’re at is so important. 
  • Leadership needs to demonstrate a clear commitment to combatting stigma within the workplace. It’s not one person’s job to create that stigma-free space, but leadership can support education, training, and conversation—talking about mental health openly and ensuring we have the tools in place to do so safely are the biggest steps we can take to reduce or eliminate stigma. One-off workshops aren’t enough, leadership has to provide the framework for change to occur. 
  • Addressing mental health struggles within the workplace is of benefit to employers, too—employees do better work when they are supported to take care of their mental health and well-being, and are more likely to stay with a company that demonstrates that support.  
  • Conversations around mental health challenges can often generalize peoples’ experiences. Yes, 5 in 5 have mental health, and 1 in 5 have mental illness, but the reality is that individual experiences within those statistics are varied.  
  • Today’s youth have the language to talk about their mental health—follow their lead! 
  • Walking the walk is really important—if you’re telling your employees to set good boundaries and take care of themselves, make sure you’re doing those things as well. Model positive behaviour.  
  • Nurturing self-esteem, social justice, and belonging are key steps in fostering an environment that prioritizes well-being. Put humanity first. 
  • Having a negative experience early in one’s professional life can have lasting consequences, so sensitivity and support regarding mental well-being are particularly important for young professionals just beginning their careers. Employers need to guard against stereotyping generations, and be sensitive to external pressures. It’s really important that young people have the opportunity to build experiences in a workplace, and if things end poorly then they may lose the ability to use the experience on resume. 
  • Recognize contributions that show up in different ways. 
  • Flexible time off can be a huge contributor to fostering positive workplace mental health—employers should have and make available detailed information about what time off is available, what counts as a sick day vs vacation, and any rights employees have in relation to that time off. Little shifts like including wellness days can also have a positive influence on attitudes towards mental health and well-being. 
  • When making plans for how to support employee mental health, consult those who will be most impacted—ensure that they have a say by providing multiple, inclusive ways to engage in decision making. 

Panelist-Suggested Resources for Further Learning:  

Addy Strickland

Addy Strickland

Youth Engagement Specialist


Addy Strickland is the lead researcher and writer of the CEI’s Youth Engagement Framework. Addy joined the CEI team in July 2021 with more than 10 years of experience in youth-led spaces. She adopts a story-based, first-voice approach to youth engagement, and is working to foster welcoming, youth-friendly spaces both within the CEI and the field of career and employment development more broadly. Prior to working for the CEI, Addy graduated from StFX University with an Honours degree in Development Studies, where she focused on using art and story as tools for community development and social change.