Managing people

Leaders to lift their wellbeing game

A new study highlights employees’ psychological wellbeing as the poor cousin to physical wellbeing to employers.

19 November 2021

According to a new study by Swinburne University of Technology for Readiness, leaders need to ‘lift their game’ when it comes to psychological wellbeing in the workplace.

The study of 1,058 Australians nationally concludes that business leaders are alarmingly unaware of their obligation to provide a psychologically-safe workplace for their employees. Psychological wellbeing is lagging far behind physical safety in the workplace.

With lockdown lifting across the country and Australians gradually returning to the office, it is more important than ever that employees feel that their mental health and wellbeing is adequately supported in the workplace.

Education amongst senior management and HR professionals is more imperative than ever to provide effective support to employees. The study reveals only 40% of senior managers (including directors, heads of department and chief executives) indicated they were aware of the relevant legislation requiring them to provide a psychologically safe workplace.

Furthermore, 33% of HR professionals weren’t aware of relevant legislation. That number increased to 48% when the organisation didn’t have a formal HR department. Additionally, the larger the organisation, the poorer the perceived culture is around psychological wellbeing.

Business owners who don’t support their employees’ psychological wellbeing can face risks such as prosecution, costly workers compensation claims, reduced productivity, and increased absenteeism.

Contrary to those working in HR and senior positions within the organisation, employees also believe their organisation should be doing more to address psychological wellbeing. The study highlighted a strong disconnect between the perceived and actual level of support.

“One of the key findings was the discrepancy in perception between employees and employers regarding psychological wellness and support. It became clear when reviewing the results that there is a lack of initiative among employers to proactively employ mental health and wellbeing programs to support staff,” said Simon Kearney, Readiness co-founder.

“These results are concerning and a wake-up call for business owners across Australia, particularly those small-to-medium sized businesses without an HR representative. If business leaders – no matter what sector they are in – don’t fully understand how to protect the psychological safety of employees, they risk not only harsh penalties but also a less productive and well workforce,” he said.

“At Readiness, we regularly check in with employees to get feedback on the areas impacting employee wellbeing in the workplace. We then provide education and the tools for employers to respond to the feedback and to create a dynamic and psychologically supportive environment for their staff,” he continued.

Individual employee demographics can also impact this perception, with males perceiving their organisation is doing more than females. The older the employee, the lower they score their organisation’s psychological wellbeing culture. Fixed-term contract employees have the most positive perceptions of an organisation’s support for wellbeing (compared to casuals and permanent employees).

“Mental health has been placed in the spotlight over the last two years, and now more than ever, employers have a responsibility to their staff to ensure that they’re taking the right steps to protect their mental wellbeing. With thoughtful monitoring and response strategies, workplaces can not only improve staff wellbeing and resilience but also support employees living with mental health problems,” said Professor Greg Murray, head of Swinburne’s centre for mental health.

When reviewing the industries and sectors that scored the lowest, blue-collar workers scored lower on the psychological wellbeing culture and the availability of wellbeing support systems, procedures and resources, compared with white-collar workers.

Primary production, construction and financial services scored the highest levels of psychological wellbeing, with manufacturing, administration and health care scoring the lowest.

Readiness is a scientifically-backed online platform helping businesses and schools support employees, teachers, and students’ mental health and physical wellbeing. It is a tool to help employers proactively identify potential wellbeing health risks and educate and improve wellbeing issues before they become potential major health concerns.

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