Mental health still a taboo topic at work

Australian employees would rather take a sick day and attribute it to a fictitious illness than admit it is for mental health

Written on 22 January, 2019
Tanaya Das

Australian employees would rather take a sick day and attribute it to a fictitious illness than admit it is for mental health purposes, according to a paper released by Allianz Australia.

The paper ‘Awareness into action: A holistic approach to cultivating mentally healthy workplaces in Australia’ highlights the enduring stigma associated with mental ill-health in the workplace and the need for a perception shift to see mental ill-health treated like other physical illnesses.

Helen Silver, Chief General Manager, Allianz Australia said, “We know good worker health and wellbeing boosts organisational health, business performance and productivity, however, there is a rising trend of mental ill-health in Australian workplaces which needs to be addressed.”

“The findings from our research indicate that, despite the progress made by both the public and private sectors, there is still a lot of work to be done by employers to address misconceptions when it comes to mental ill-health.”

The paper comes in response to research commissioned by Allianz Australia that revealed the vast majority of full-time working Australians (93 per cent) are uncomfortable discussing or disclosing a mental health condition to a manager, and instead would prefer to lie when taking sick day.

The research found that 85 per cent of employees feel their manager is more likely to think their need for time off is genuine if they say they are suffering from a cold or flu rather than for stress or anxiety.

Overall, most employees are generally afraid to talk about mental illness for fear of stigma (90 per cent), and fear of losing their job (78 per cent), and are concerned that mental health issues won’t be taken as seriously as physical illnesses in the workplace (84 per cent).

Mental health-related conditions and symptoms now account for nearly 40 per cent of all Allianz Australia’s total active workers compensation claims and 11 per cent of all payments.

According to the paper, for a modern workplace to thrive, it is important that employers adopt a holistic approach that encompasses five key action areas to put the employee at the centre of the mental ill-health equation. These areas are:

  • Physical: Promoting the mental health benefits of physical activity and good general health;
  • Mental: Encouraging awareness through training, mental wellbeing leave and encouraging transparent dialogue;
  • Space and Role: Creating positive organisational design that directly influences employee motivation and happiness;
  • Culture: Nurturing a positive workplace culture that is transparent and inclusive;
  • Ecosystems/Partnerships: Developing partnerships and alliances between government, insurers, mental health professionals and other entities to improve communication, engagement and mental health recovery.

“The first step is to encourage employees to be honest and unafraid to seek the necessary treatment they require. This might involve a cultural shift towards transparent dialogue that is led by the leadership team and should be backed by manager training to provide adequate support,” said Silver.

“Actions by employers to create an environment where workers feel they can be safe to identify their mental injury will greatly assist employees. Measures like creating positive organisational design and nurturing a positive workplace culture will also directly influence employee motivation and happiness.”

“As an insurer, Allianz is shifting the conversation away from just focusing on the commercial implications for businesses to understanding and acting on what we can do, in collaboration with employers, to proactively address wellbeing in the workplace.”

“Allianz believes a collaborative and co-designed approach, along with employers and partners, will be instrumental in supporting workers in their quest to return to the workforce quicker.”

“To put it simply, we need to make it clear to all Australians that taking leave for mental health is just as acceptable as taking time off for a physical illness.”

You can access the full breakdown of the research findings here.