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Employees say mental health initiatives are introduced to ‘tick boxes’

Newly-released research reveals that many Australian workers still lack confidence to bring their whole selves to work and feel lip service is being paid to their mental health, despite an increased focus on the mental wellbeing of employees during the pandemic.

With large numbers of employees weighing up whether to return to the office, and considering changing jobs, the survey – conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Australian College of Applied Professions (ACAP) – reports that more than half (53 per cent) of workers say that they would hide a mental or physical health condition to avoid being judged or discriminated against, and nearly half 47 per cent) aren’t comfortable enough to be open about their personal interests, values, culture and/or lifestyle at work.

Of particular concern is the fact that one in two (49 per cent) of the 1000 workers surveyed believe that their employers have introduced mental health and wellbeing initiatives just to ‘tick boxes’, with their managers showing little to no genuine concern or empathy for their wellbeing.

The research found that the key issue for workers is a perceived lack of ‘people skills’ among managers and business owners, with 65 per cent of workers saying that the person they report to struggles with soft skills – primarily empathy (27 per cent), effective communication (25 per cent), active listening (21 per cent), flexibility (21 per cent), and emotional intelligence (20 per cent).

The research uncovered significant variances in perception of attitudes to their wellbeing between workers of different generations. Millennials (54 per cent ) are more likely than Baby Boomers (34 per cent) to admit that they don’t feel comfortable enough to be open about their personal interests, values, culture and/or lifestyle at work. And millennials (55 per cent) and Gen Xers (53 per cent) are more likely than Baby Boomers (35 per cent) to level the accusation that mental health initiatives have been introduced as a ‘box-ticking exercise’.

The findings come on the back of a Federal Productivity Commission report estimating that mental illness-related staff absenteeism and presenteeism costs Australian businessess 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,” ACAP CEO, George Garrop, said. “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.

“The data also tells us that many Australian workplaces could be doing more to acknowledge the unique values, needs, personalities and circumstances of their people – and that managers and leaders could deliver a wealth of collective benefits through operating with key soft skills like empathy, emotional intelligence and active listening,” Garrop concluded.

This story originally appeared on Inside Small Business.

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