Despite a renewed focus on wellbeing and inclusion during the pandemic, more than half (53 per cent) of workers would hide a mental or physical health condition to avoid being judged or discriminated against.
And four in 10 (47 per cent or 5.6 million workers) don’t feel comfortable enough to be open about their personal interests, values, culture or lifestyle at work, a new survey shows.
The findings come as many Australian companies scramble to quell potential staff turnover and critical skills gaps among a talent shortage.
Meanwhile, workers’ mental health struggles have also been shown to potentially incur significant business losses, with a 2020 Federal Productivity report estimating that mental illness-related staff absenteeism and presenteeism costs workplaces up to $17 billion a year.
Concerningly, one in two respondents (49 per cent) believe that 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.
A lack of soft skills (or people skills) among managers and leaders was a key driver behind worker concerns, with 65 per cent of workers saying their manager or boss struggles with soft skills.
Bosses struggle mostly with empathy (27 per cent), effective communication (25 per cent), active listening (21 per cent), flexibility (21 per cent) and emotional intelligence (20 per cent).
Millennials not keen to share
Conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Australia College of Applied Professions in October this year, the nationally representative survey of 1,000 workers revealed significant differences in perceptions among generational groups, particularly between Gen Z/Millennials and Baby Boomers.
Among those surveyed were IT and computing professionals.
Millennials (54 per cent) were much more likely than Baby Boomers (34 per cent) to indicate that they don’t feel comfortable enough to be open about their personal interests, values, culture or lifestyle at work.
Meanwhile, Millennials (55 per cent) and Gen Xers (53 per cent) were significantly more likely than Baby Boomers (35 per cent) to say they feel like their workplace has introduced mental health and wellbeing merely as a tick box exercise, but that day-to-day, their manager shows little if any genuine concern or empathy for their wellbeing.
Workplaces could do more
In an age when we’re repeatedly told to be ourselves and that it’s OK not to be OK at work, the findings suggest that many workers still have their guard up at work, ACAP CEO George Garrop says.
The survey shows that many workplaces could be doing more to acknowledge the needs of workers, and that managers lack soft skills, he says.
“Many organisations have boosted their mental health, wellbeing, diversity and inclusion initiatives in the past two years, but our research indicates that these initiatives are not always leading to meaningful outcomes or positive sentiment for workers,” he says.
According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, research indicates that job stress and other work-related hazards are emerging as leading contributors to the burden of occupational disease and injury.
The commission points out that mental illness is more prevalent than many people realise.
Around 45 per cent of Australians aged between 16 and 85 will experience a mental illness at some point in their life, while one in five will experience a mental illness in any given year.
The most common mental illnesses are depression, anxiety, and substance use disorder.