Workers don’t want to discuss mental health with managers

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Friday, 26 August, 2022 - 12:15
Industry news
National News

While psychosocial wellbeing has become increasingly important in recent years, more than half of employees do not want to discuss mental health problems with their manager, according to a recent survey.

Only 55 per cent of workers felt comfortable speaking to their manager about a mental health challenge – and this reveals a strong stigma that remains in many Australian workplaces, said Aaron Neilson, CEO of The Safe Step, which conducted the survey.

“This is no doubt a key focus area for people leaders to enable their team members to be comfortable to discuss openly their challenges and in doing so better understand how to approach such conversations effectively,” said Neilson.

“The importance of effective conversations in this space is emphasised through Atlassian’s 2021 Return on Action report which found 69 per cent of employees indicated that they would turn down a promotion in favour of preserving their mental health.”

Furthermore, he said the outlook for many employees remains gloomy with 45 per cent of respondents revealing they don’t believe their mental health will get better in the next three months.

“These results are not unexpected and are supported by the latest census data, where 10 per cent of Australia’s population identified as having a chronic mental health issue,” said Neilson.

“The issue is affecting workplaces creating concerns for wellbeing, productivity and stability.”

The Safe Step survey also found that 25 per cent of workers felt the amount of stress in their job is unmanageable while one out of every two respondents indicated that a poor workplace culture would encourage them to find a job elsewhere.

“With the current talent short market and opportunities in abundance, the risk of losing employees who do not feel safe, secure and supported is real,” said Neilson.

Alongside the high personal costs of mental health, a recent Productivity Commission report estimates that mental illness costs the Australian economy between $200 billion and $220 billion a year, with workplaces contributing up to $17.4 billion dollars of that cost.

Furthermore, $1.3 billion dollars is paid annually in workers' compensation and life insurance claims for work-related psychological injuries.

“As outlined poor mental health can impact workplaces, creating concerns for wellbeing, productivity and stability whilst also preventing people from joining the labour market, finding and keeping a job, attending work, and performing to the best of their abilities,” said Neilson.

“Employers can help support, retain, and attract workers by creating ‘well’ workplaces with strong cultures which engender trust and demonstrate care.

“Organisations are steadily increasing their investment in wellbeing, developing enterprise-wide strategies and hiring specialists to drive a more informed, evidence and risk-based approach.

“In doing so they are moving away from ‘passionate advocates’ in the wellbeing space, towards a stronger demand for specialists with a clinical or organisational psychology background and experience.”

With the emphasis now on reducing or eliminating psychosocial risks in the workplace where reasonably practical, Neilson said OHS and HR professionals will carry this as a core responsibility of their roles – even more so than they have to date.

“This will require a risk-based approach in assessing any psychosocial hazards in the workplace, development of prevention plans and associated reporting as is done for other physical hazards in the workplace,” he said.

“It will be imperative for OHS professionals to educate themselves around the different types of psychosocial hazards such that they can implement the appropriate systems of work and coach and guide their colleagues accordingly.

“We expect that this increased focus will also lead to job creation and development opportunities for OHS professionals to either add this to their portfolio or choose to specialise in this area, enabling the informed practice approach organisations now seek.

“Building knowledge, accessing education, and developing the ability to advise with credibility in this area will become more and more relevant for future employability.”