Thursday, 02 December 2021 11:24

Organisations pay lip service to mental health, workers say in a survey


Despite a growing emphasis on workplace wellbeing and inclusion, one in two workers still lack confidence to go back to work and feel that lip service is being paid to their mental health, according to a survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Australian College of Applied Professions.

The nationally representative survey of 1,000 Australian workers revealed that more than half (53%) of workers would hide a mental or physical health condition to avoid discrimination, and four in ten (47%) don’t feel comfortable enough to be open about their interests, values, culture, and lifestyle at work.

One in two (49%) of workers feel that their workplace has reduced their mental health and wellbeing initiatives to tick boxes while day-to-day, their manager shows little genuine concern or empathy for their condition.

The survey suggests that a lack of soft skills—or rather “people skills”—among managers and leaders—was a key driver behind worker concerns with 65% of workers saying their manager/boss struggles with soft skills such as empathy (27%) effective communication (25%), active listening (21%), flexibility (21%), and emotional intelligence (20%).

Interestingly, the survey also showed differences in perceptions among generational groups particularly between Gen Z/millennials and baby boomers.

Millennials (54%) were much more likely than baby boomers (34%) to indicate they don’t feel comfortable enough to be open about their personal interests, values, culture and/or lifestyle at work.

The findings come as Australian organisations scramble to quell potential staff turnover and critical skills gaps. Workers’ mental health struggles have also been shown to potentially incur significant business losses with a 2020 Federal Productivity Commission report estimating that mental illness-related staff absenteeism and presenteeism costs Australian workplaces up to $17 billion per year.

“In an age where we are repeatedly told ‘to be ourselves’ and that ‘it’s OK not to be OK’ at work, these latest findings suggest that many Australians still feel very guarded in the workplace,” comments Australian College of Applied Professions CEO George Garrop.

“While over the past two years, many organisations have boosted their mental health, wellbeing, diversity and inclusion initiatives, our research indicates that these initiatives are not always leading to meaningful outcomes or positive sentiment for workers,” Garrop continues.

“The data also tells us that many Australian workplaces could be doing more to acknowledge the unique values, needs, personalities, and circumstances of their people—and that managers and leaders could deliver a wealth of collective benefits through operating with key soft skills like empathy, emotional intelligence, and active listening,” Garrop concludes.

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