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Wellbeing

Good policy isn’t enough when it comes to supporting workplace mental health

By Nick Wilson | |6 minute read

The pandemic got us thinking about workplace mental health. Now that the worst of it has passed, workers are feeling less supported.

ADP’s People at Work 2023: A Global Workforce View report (ADP report) said that when it comes to mental health, employees are feeling less supported by their managers than during the height of the pandemic.

The number of individuals reporting managerial support for their mental health fell from 66 per cent in 2021 to 56 per cent in 2022.

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And though many businesses are choosing to take mental health more seriously, most employees said that their employers think that their workplaces are more mental health friendly than they really are.

Employers falling short

Not only are employees feeling less supported when it comes to mental health, but as many as seven in 10 Australians wouldn’t tell their employer about a mental health condition.

“The research demonstrates we still have a lot of work to do in reducing stigma and discrimination of mental health,” said Australian Association of Psychologists director Tegan Carrison.

A further 41 per cent believe their managers are ill-equipped to discuss mental health without judgement.

The cost of mental health

The past few years have made it clear that investments in employee mental health are not a concession.

Globally, 12 billion workdays are lost every year to depression and anxiety alone.

Meanwhile, employee disengagement, often the result of stress and other mental health troubles, costs the Australian economy $211 billion every year.

Not only can better mental health support boost employee productivity, but it can also help to attract and retain valued staff.

According to the American Psychological Association, 92 per cent of workers said it is important for them to work for an organisation that provides support for employee mental health.

As discussed in a recent HR Leader article, one-third of employees intend on looking for a job at a different organisation in the next year. Among workers who are unsatisfied with mental health and wellbeing support offered by their employers, this number jumps to 57 per cent.

What can employers do differently?

According to the ADP report, employee assistance programs and team-building exercises are on the rise. At the same time, however, workers are reporting that employers are less likely than last year to do the following:

  1. Check in with employees.
  2. Provide wellbeing days off.
  3. Offer special counselling services.
  4. Allow stress management breaks.

While corporate policy is important, more is needed. A recent article published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that the ultimate benefits of employee assistance programs (EAPs) will not be realised without complementary changes to workplace culture.

“EAPs primarily focus on individual remedies rather than addressing the context of the problem (e.g., the corporate climate), which may render them limited in effectiveness,” the article said.

Without a supportive culture, mental health policy will fail to move the needle on employee health and wellbeing.

Evidence suggests that EAPs are significantly underutilised by workers, with some estimating that only 2 to 5 per cent of workers access their EAP when in need of help.

ADP ANZ managing director Kylie Baullo said EAPs are an important formal commitment to workplace mental health, but support should be baked into the working environment.

“It is essential to integrate mental health and stress support mechanisms into the day-to-day working environment and train managers to effectively manage these issues,” said Ms Baullo.

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Culture

Your organization's culture determines its personality and character. The combination of your formal and informal procedures, attitudes, and beliefs results in the experience that both your workers and consumers have. Company culture is fundamentally the way things are done at work.

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson is a journalist with HR Leader. With a background in environmental law and communications consultancy, Nick has a passion for language and fact-driven storytelling.