Four out of ten workers in Australia who reported poor mental health in the past 12 months did not talk about it at their workplace, according to new research from the Diversity Council Australia (DCA) has found that
The study revealed that workers who discussed their mental health were twice as likely to experience discrimination or harassment at work compared to those who remained silent.
The peak body for workplace diversity and inclusion reported that despite 80 per cent of senior executives believing their workplace was safe and supportive for people with poor mental health, only half of workers in entry-level and 52 per cent in employee-level positions shared this belief.
DCA’s CEO Lisa Annese said the latest findings from the Mapping the State of Inclusion and Mental Health in the Australian Workforce report directly contradicts the general assumption that the global pandemic has destigmatised conversations about mental health in the workplace.
“It is often assumed poor mental health is a function of personal rather than workplace issues, but our findings tell us this is not always the case,” Annese said in a statement.
“Work is hugely important because our experiences at work and the support we get in a workplace can play a significant role in determining good mental health.”
The DCA follows the World Health Organisation’s definition of “mental health” describing good mental health, as “being a state of well-being in which every individual realises their potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and can contribute to their community.”
“During the pandemic, many business leaders assumed we had gotten better at talking about our mental health at work,” Annese continued.
“It has helped us to be more open minded about having these conversations, but our research shows many employees still don’t feel comfortable having these conversations, and even if they did, many managers also don’t yet have the skills to begin these difficult conversations – something we hope to change with the release of our report.”
The DCA’s latest report also revealed that senior executives had the highest levels of positive mental health — 61 per cent of senior leaders reported “excellent mental health” compared with 33 per cent of those in entry-level positions, and 34 per cent at the non-management employee level.
Workers excluded from social gatherings were also found to be three times more likely to report poor mental health than they are to report excellent mental health.
Workers in teams that were inclusive were seven times more likely than those in non-inclusive teams to report positive mental health in the workplace.
Annese believes the results from the study demonstrates the need for employers to make their workplaces safer for their employees to talk about mental health.
“To support health and wellbeing of their workers, employers need to take steps to proactively break the stigma around poor mental health and create workplaces where people feel safe to talk about and seek support for their struggles,” she said.
The DCA shares a four-step strategy organisations can take to ensure their workplaces promote positive mental health.
They include building inclusive teams across all levels of business, addressing obvious and subtle exclusion, such as discrimination and harassment, creating an environment where people can comfortably talk about mental illness, and getting senior leaders to be role models and speak out about their mental health at work to reduce stigma.
“Our research shows senior leaders and other employees see their workplaces differently, and employers must work to ensure workplaces feel safe for everyone,” the report concludes.