New research finds 4 in 10 Australian workers silent about mental health at work

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Four out of every ten Australian workers who reported poor mental health in the past year didn’t talk about it at work, new research from the peak body for workplace diversity and inclusion has found.  

The study by Diversity Council Australia (DCA) revealed workers who did discuss their mental health were twice as likely to report experiencing discrimination and/or harassment at work compared to those who said nothing.  

DCA CEO Lisa Annese said the eye-opening findings from the Mapping the State of Inclusion and Mental Health in the Australian Workforce report challenged the idea that the COVID-19 pandemic has normalised conversations about mental health at work and broken down pre-2020 stigma.  

“It is often assumed poor mental health is a function of personal rather than workplace issues, but our findings tell us this is not always the case,” Ms Annese said.    

“Work is hugely important because our experiences at work and the support we get in a workplace can play a significant role in determining good mental health*.   

“During the pandemic, many business leaders assumed we had gotten better at talking about our mental health at work.   

“It has helped us to be more open minded about having these conversations, but our research shows many employees still don’t feel comfortable having these conversations, and even if they did, many managers also don’t yet have the skills to begin these difficult conversations – something we hope to change with the release of our report.”  

The Mapping the State of Inclusion and Mental Health in the Australian Workforce report shows:  

  • Senior executives were almost twice as likely to report very good or excellent mental health compared entry-level workers and other non-managerial employees (61% of senior leaders versus 33% in entry-level positions, and 34% at the non-management employee level).  
  • 80% of senior executives strongly agreed or agreed their workplace was safe and supportive for people with poor mental health, compared to 50% of workers in entry-level and 52% in employee-level positions. 
  • Workers left out of social gatherings are three times more likely to report poor mental health than they are to report excellent mental health. 
  • Workers in inclusive teams are seven times more likely than those in non-inclusive teams to report their workplace impacted their mental health positively or very positively.  

Ms Annese said the results demonstrated there was more work to be done by employers to make their workplaces safer to talk about mental health, including addressing exclusion and driving inclusivity.     

“To support health and wellbeing of their workers, employers need to take steps to proactively break the stigma around poor mental health and create workplaces where people feel safe to talk about and seek support for their struggles.   

“It’s also crucial for business leaders to recognise that their seniority makes a difference to the employee mental health experience.  

 And that they have a role to play in setting an example by demonstrating to their teams that they encourage honest conversations about mental health and can provide support, through role modelling open behaviour, and by being a committed, inclusive manager.  

“Ultimately, businesses that get mental health right will be those who take these proactive steps towards making their workplaces more inclusive.   

“This will improve the mental health and wellbeing of their workers, which in turn will help organisations to achieve business goals.”  

DCA’s report revealed 4-step blueprint organisations can apply to make sure their workplace has a positive impact on employee mental health:  

Step 1 – Build inclusion: Our research findings show inclusive teams, leaders and workplace cultures are linked to better mental health at work.   

Step 2 – Address obvious and subtle exclusion: Discrimination and harassment can affect our mental health at work, but our research shows that so do more subtle forms of exclusion, like being left out of social gatherings.   

Step 3 – Make it safe to talk about mental health at work: Talking about mental health at work helps the people around us to better understand mental health challenges and the kind of support we may need. However, our research shows employers can do more to make workplaces feel like a safe space for honest conversations.  

Step 4 – Recognise seniority makes a difference: Senior leaders can play a key role in creating mentally healthy workplaces by speaking out about mental health at work and reducing stigma. Still, our research shows senior leaders and other employees see their workplaces differently, and employers must work to ensure workplaces feel safe for everyone. 

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*DCA follows the World Health Organisation (WHO) in defining ‘mental health’ through the lens of ‘good mental health’, as being a state of well-being in which every individual realises their potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and can contribute to their community.   

Media Contact: Sonia Kohlbacher, 02 7209 9080, media@dca.org.au  

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