Australian workers would rather take a sick day and attribute it to a fictitious illness than acknowledge it is for mental health purposes, according to research by Allianz Australia.
The paper ‘Awareness into action: A holistic approach to cultivating mentally healthy workplaces in Australia’ highlights the enduring prejudices associated with mental ill-health in the workplace.
Moreover, it demonstrates the need for a perception shift to see mental ill-health treated like other physical illnesses.
The vast majority of full-time working Australians (93%) are uncomfortable discussing or disclosing a mental health condition to a manager, and instead would prefer to lie when taking sick day.
Moreover, the research found 85% 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.
It also found most employees are generally afraid to talk about mental illness for fear of stigma (90%), and fear of losing their job (78%), and are concerned that mental health issues won’t be taken as seriously as physical illnesses in the workplace (84%).
Mental health-related conditions and symptoms now account for nearly 40% of all Allianz Australia’s total active workers compensation claims and 11% cent of all payments.
Helen Silver, chief general manager, Allianz Australia said that despite good worker health and wellbeing boosting organisational health, business performance and productivity, there is a rising trend of mental ill-health in Australian workplaces which needs to be addressed.
Silver added 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 first step is to encourage employees to be honest and unafraid to seek the necessary treatment they require,” said Silver.
“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.
She added that 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,” said Silver.
“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.”
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.