One in two Australian workers are guarding their whole selves at work

George Garrop, Chief Executive Officer at Australian College of Applied Professions

Ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, employees have increasingly weighed up their experiences at work, including whether to return to the office or change jobs.

A recent survey has explicitly found out that despite a growing emphasis on workplace wellbeing and inclusion, one in two Australian workers still lack confidence to bring their whole selves to work and feel lip service is being paid to their mental health.

Australian College of Applied Professions’ YouGov survey

The survey was conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Australian College of Applied Professions (‘ACAP’) in October 2021 with a nationally representative 1000 Australian workers.

53% of workers would hide a mental or physical health condition to avoid being judged or discriminated against, and 47%, the equivalent of 5.6m Australian workers, are uncomfortable opening up about personal interests, values, culture and lifestyle at work.

Concerningly, the survey found that one in two (49%) Australian workers feel that their workplace has introduced mental health and wellbeing initiatives to ‘tick boxes’.

However, managers show little if any genuine concern or empathy for their wellbeing.

A lack of soft skills among managers and leaders was a key driver behind worker concerns.

The research found out that 65% of employees surveyed were saying that their managers struggle with soft skills, primarily empathy (27%), effective communication (25%), active listening (21%), flexibility (21%), and emotional intelligence (20%).

The survey also revealed significant differences in perceptions among generational groups. This was particularly evident between Gen Z or Millennials and Baby Boomers.

Millennials (54%) are more likely than Baby Boomers (34%) to indicate that they are uncomfortable to open up on personal interests, values, culture and lifestyle at work.

Millennials (55%) and Gen Xers (53%) are more likely than Baby Boomers (35%) to feel like their workplace has introduced mental health and wellbeing initiatives to ‘tick boxes’ while the managers show little if any genuine concern or empathy for their wellbeing.

Many Australian companies are scrambling to quell staff turnover and critical skills gaps.

Workers’ mental health struggles have also been shown to incur significant business losses with a 2020 Federal Productivity Commission report estimating that mental illness related staff absenteeism and presenteeism costs Australian workplaces $17bn per year.

Australian College of Applied Professions’ views

George Garrop, CEO of Australian College of Applied Professions gave his advice.

“In an age where we are repeatedly told “to be ourselves” and that “it’s OK not to be OK” at work, the findings suggest that many Australians feel very guarded in the workplace.”

“While over the past two years, many organisations have boosted their mental health, wellbeing, diversity and inclusion initiatives, our research indicates that these initiatives are not always leading to meaningful outcomes or positive sentiment for workers.”

“The data also tells us that many Australian workplaces could be doing more to acknowledge the unique values, needs, personalities and circumstances of their employees.”

“Managers and leaders could deliver a wealth of collective benefits by operating while deploying key soft skills like empathy, emotional intelligence and active listening.”

“At the Australian College of Applied Professions, we have a particular interest in the people skills that are required so as to make workplaces better environments to thrive in.”

“Programs like ACAP’s recently launched MBA can develop the critical soft skills that managers need to ensure their workforce feels valued, accepted and empowered to do their best.”