Half of workplaces are mentally unhealthy

Analysis

Half of workplaces are mentally unhealthy

One in two Australians believe their workplaces are mentally unhealthy, but only a third believe their leaders care, according to a study that supports a call for organisations to demonstrate a greater commitment in this area.

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One in two Australians believe their workplaces are mentally unhealthy, but only a third believe their leaders care, according to a study that supports a call for organisations to demonstrate a greater commitment in this area.

Conducted by TNS Social Research, the study of more than 1,100 people, provides a snapshot of the current state of workplace mental health in Australia.
 
It was released as part of Heads Up, the national campaign launched last month by beyondblue and the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance to encourage business leaders to address work-related mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.
 
Construction workplaces are mentally healthy
 
Some of the key findings included:
    • Nine out of 10 workers (91%) believed mentally healthy workplaces were important, but nearly half (48%) said they didn’t work in a mentally healthy workplace and were therefore three times more likely to take sick leave for mental health problems;
    • Nearly two thirds (63%) felt their organisational leaders were not committed to promoting staff mental health, and many (44%) didn’t believe their most senior leader valued mental health;
    • Workers were least likely to report a mentally workplace if they worked in Queensland (46%), in the agriculture sector (41%) or in the public administration & safety sector (41%). By contrast, workers were most likely to report a mentally healthy workplace if they worked in WA (62%) or in construction (63%);
    • One in five workers (21%) said they took time off in the past year because they felt mentally unwell. This rose to nearly 46% among workers who reported a mentally unhealthy workplace and fell to 13% among those who said their workplace was mentally healthy;
    • Of the workers who took sick leave because they felt mentally unwell, almost half (48%) did not disclose the reason to anybody in the workplace;
    • Workers generally were reluctant to disclose an experience of depression or anxiety to their employer, and this sentiment was even more common among those who described their workplace as mentally unhealthy;
    • There was a significant knowledge gap between leaders and employees in terms of their awareness of the existence of workplace policies, procedures and practices to support workplace mental health: whereas four in five organisational leaders (81%) said their workplace had one or more policies, procedures and practices in place to support mental health, many employees (35%) didn’t know these resources existed or felt they didn’t have access to them;
    • Employees were less likely to engage in positive behaviours to protect their mental health (eg seeing a GP, talking to colleagues, family or friends, and accessing support through the workplace) and more likely to become socially isolated or engage in substance abuse, if they reported a mentally unhealthy workplace;
    • Stigma is still prevalent in many workplaces: three in 10 employees (30.5%) had reservations about working with a person experiencing depression or anxiety, and approximately one third (31.5%) did not think a person experiencing depression or anxiety would be able to perform adequately at their job; and
    • Only one in 20 employees (5%) said they would contemplate quitting their job if they experienced a mental health condition.
Mental health is a leadership issue
 
The authors of the study explained that while creating a mentally healthy workplace is everyone’s responsibility, mental health is a leadership issue, and "change must start at the top".

They continued, “Business owners and organisational leaders play a critical role in driving policies and practices that promote mental health in the workplace. They have the capacity to positively influence workplace culture, management practices and the experience of employees.”

The study called on organisational leaders to:
    • Demonstrate their commitment to good mental health in the working environment, including steps to reduce stigma;
    • Identify triggers of poor mental health specific to their workplace, such as stress and inflexible working hours, and tailor their actions to address these risks;
    • Implement workplace policies, practices and programs that encourage employees to seek help for mental health conditions;
    • Promote resources designed to protect employee mental health throughout the workplace to ensure that employees are aware of them;
    • Provide staff with mental health training, to equip them with the skills and knowledge they require to manage their own mental health and support others in their workplace.
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