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Do Australian organisations really make it OK to bring your whole self to work?

One in two Australian workers are guarding their whole selves at work and half of workers feel lip service is being paid to their mental health.
  • More than half (53%) of Australian workers would hide a mental or physical health condition to avoid being judged or discriminated against.
  • Half (49%) of Australian workers feel 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.
  • Four in ten (47%) workers don’t feel comfortable enough to be open about their personal interests, values, culture and/or lifestyle at work.
  • Significant differences in perceptions among generational groups, particularly between Gen Z/Millennials and Baby Boomers.
  • Poor soft skills among managers and workers drive worker concerns.

 

(Sydney, Australia | December 2, 2021) – Since COVID, employees have increasingly weighed up their experiences at work, including whether to return to the office at all or change jobs. A recent survey has found that despite a growing emphasis on workplace wellbeing and inclusion, one in two Australian workers still lack confidence to bring their whole selves to work and feel lip service is being paid to their mental health.

Conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Australian College of Applied Professions (‘ACAP’) in October 2021, the nationally representative survey of 1000 Australian workers revealed that more than half (53%) of workers would hide a mental or physical health condition to avoid being judged or discriminated against, and that four in ten (47%) – the equivalent of 5.6 million Australian workers – don’t feel comfortable enough to be open about their 1 personal interests, values, culture and/or lifestyle at work.

Concerningly, the survey also found that one in two (49%) Australian workers feel 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 rather ‘people skills’ – among managers and leaders was a key driver behind worker concerns, the research found, with 65% of workers saying their manager/boss struggles with soft skills – primarily empathy (27%), effective communication (25%), active listening (21%), flexibility (21%), and emotional intelligence (20%).

Interestingly, the survey also revealed significant differences in perceptions among generational groups, particularly between Gen Z/Millennials and Baby Boomers. Millennials (54%) were much more likely than Baby Boomers (34%) to indicate they don’t feel comfortable enough to be open about their personal interests, values, culture and/or lifestyle at work. Meanwhile, Millennials (55%) and Gen Xers (53%) were significantly more likely than Baby Boomers (35%) to say they feel like 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.

The findings come as many Australian organisations scramble to quell potential staff turnover and critical skills gaps. Workers’ mental health struggles have also been shown to potentially incur significant business losses, with a 2020 Federal Productivity Commission report estimating that mental illness-related staff absenteeism and presenteeism costs Australian workplaces up to $17 billion per year.

1. Based on latest ABS figures which list the total number of Australian workers 18+ years as being 11.9 million.
"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,” said Australian College of Applied Professions CEO, George Garrop.

“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,” Mr Garrop continued.

“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.

“At the Australian College of Applied Professions, we have a particular interest in the people skills required to make workplaces better environments to thrive in. Through programs such as ACAP’s recently launched MBA, managers and leaders can develop the critical soft skills they need to ensure their workforce feels valued, accepted and empowered to do their best.”

 

Click here for a summary of all the findings
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