Money Work Australian workplaces failing workers with ‘superficial’ mental health policies
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Australian workplaces failing workers with ‘superficial’ mental health policies

Mental health at work
Australian workers are being let down by management and 'superficial' mental health polices. Photo: Getty
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Australian businesses and their managers are failing employees when it comes to adequately addressing mental health and wellbeing issues, a new survey found.

The SuperFriend’s Indicators of a Thriving Workplace report, seen first by The New Daily, revealed almost half of the nation’s workers believe mental health concerns are a major problem in their organisation.

But as awareness of psychological issues grows, poor management capabilities and “superficial” policies are letting employees down, experts say.

“Mental health is not something that organisations put a lot of emphasis on at all,” Edith Cowan University work and performance professor Stephen Teo told The New Daily.

“They talk about trying to help employees with their wellbeing, and so on, but it is always quite superficial when it comes to actually dealing with mental issues.

Mental health at work
Mental health issues at work. Photo: Supplied

“Organisations are not good at addressing wellbeing, [and] most managers are not trained to even identify mental health problems at work and they tend to leave it to the employees to deal with it themselves … They are quite weak at people management skills.

“It’s lip service and they’re not walking the talk.”

Of the 5017 workers surveyed, it found 46 per cent of Australians identify workplace mental health and wellbeing as a problem in their business, but only a fifth of these (20 per cent) believe that the issue is being addressed.

In addition, only 50 per cent of workers are aware a wellbeing strategy is in place in their business. And of those companies with a policy, only 20 per cent of their workers deem it effective.

Just 10 per cent of the respondents believed their managers had the knowledge and skills to effectively support employees with complex mental health issues.

And according to SuperFriend CEO Margo Lydon, upper management within Australian businesses are clueless to their employees’ concerns.

“Business leaders and managers think their workplace is much better when it comes to workplace mental health than their employees,” Ms Lydon told The New Daily.

“The higher up in the organisation you go, the rosier the glass is than when you talk about an employee on the same topic.

“We’re seeing [mental health] awareness higher than it has ever been … but we’ve got a desperate need by a lot of organisations to do more in creating more optimally mentally healthy workplaces.”

How mental illness manifests in the workplace

According to Ms Lydon, mental illness in the workplace can develop as a result of bullying, harassment, not having policies in place to support good work practice or employers ignoring the early indicators that contribute to poor mental health.

Mental health at work
Employees believe managers lack the ability to identify mental illness. Photo: Supplied

Ms Lydon noted when somebody’s behaviour or output at work shifts from the norm – such as tardiness, missing deadlines or a reduction in involvement – it can be an early sign they are struggling mentally.

The best response to this is to provide flexible work arrangements, a reduction of work duties for a period of time, time off work under the guidance of a medical practitioner or employment assistance programs to support the individual through recovery.

She acknowledged it can be difficult for employers to identify these early warning signs, but said an invested manager can be “incredibly vital” to a worker’s road to recovery.

“If you don’t know your employee on a good day, then you’re not likely to know how they turn up when they are not coping – which are the early warning signals,” Ms Lydon said.

“If a manager understands an employee and knows their staff well then they are going to be able to pick up those early warning signs and that’s the time to have that conversation, ‘Are you OK and is there anything I can do?’, and help them get the help they need.”

“The worst thing managers can do is nothing at all.”

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