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Mental health still a taboo topic in the workplace

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More than half of South Australian employees say they would hide a mental or physical health condition to avoid being judged or discriminated against in the workplace, according to a new survey.

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The Australian College of Applied Professions (ACAP) survey results, released yesterday, also found 45 per cent of South Australian workers felt that mental health and wellbeing initiatives introduced at their workplace were simply to ‘tick boxes’ while day-to-day, their manager showed little if any genuine concern or empathy for staff wellbeing.

ACAP is one of the largest providers of psychology and human services programs in Australia, including in SA.

The findings come as many organisations scramble to control staff turnover and fill critical skill gaps.

The national survey found that across Australia 47 per cent of workers did not feel comfortable enough to be open about their personal interests, values, culture and/or lifestyle at work.

There were also significant differences in perceptions among generational groups, particularly between Gen Z/Millennials and Baby Boomers.

ACAP CEO George Garrop said organisations had boosted their mental health, wellbeing, diversity and inclusion initiatives in the past two years but the research indicated those initiatives did not always lead to meaningful outcomes.

“In the 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,” he said.

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 absenteeism costs Australian workplaces up to $17 billion per year.

“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 said.

The survey comprised a national sample of 1000 Australian workers aged 18 and over.

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