One in two Australians feel their workplace has introduced mental health initiatives to ‘tick boxes’ and that their managers show little if any genuine concern or empathy for their wellbeing, according to new research.
The survey of 1,000 Australian workers, conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Australian College of Applied Professions (ACAP), found more than half of workers (53%) would hide a mental or physical health condition to avoid being judged or discriminated against and that four in 10 (47%) don’t feel comfortable enough to open up about their personal interests, values, culture and/or lifestyle at work.
A lack of ‘people skills’ among managers and leaders was a key driver behind worker concerns, with research finding 65% of workers feel their manager/boss struggles with soft skills – primarily empathy (27%), effective communication (25%), active listening (21%), flexibility (21%) and emotional intelligence (20%).
The survey also revealed 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 say they don’t feel comfortable enough to be open about their personal interests, values, culture and/or lifestyle at work.
Meanwhile, Millennials (55%) and Gen Xers (53%) were more likely than Baby Boomers (35%) to say they feel like their workplace has introduced mental health and wellbeing initiatives to ‘tick boxes’ while day to day, their manager shows little if any genuine concern or empathy for their wellbeing.
Workers’ mental health struggles have 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,” said 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.”