Part one of a significant research report into Australia’s workplace mental health and the impact of COVID-19 on future workplaces has been released this week and includes some startling results.
The survey conducted by SuperFriend (a not-for-profit organisation that provides mental health insights and solutions to workplaces across Australia) asked 10,000 Australian workers in different industries, locations and roles about how changing ways of working have impacted on workplace mental health and productivity.
SuperFriend says the Indicators of a Thriving Workplace report may be the most important report they have ever produced, given the ongoing challenges employers and employees alike have faced from COVID-19 lockdowns and emerging workforce trends.
The report shows more than half (53.5%) of Australian workers experienced a mental health condition in the last 12 months, with many workers feeling anxious (33.3%), depressed (26.7%) and/or isolated (18.8%) during that time. The report also contains a particularly concerning message for workplaces: nearly a quarter of the workforce (22.3%) reported that their workplace had either caused their mental health condition or made it worse.
SuperFriend CEO Margo Lydon says that even as restrictions are lifting across the nation, survey results show that half (50.9%) of the workforce would like to work remotely, with 59.4% of those workers wanting to work remotely at least half of the time.
“As we continue to navigate through this pandemic, it’s important to listen and respond to what works best for each of our workers”, Lydon says. “Not all people are just as productive at home or at work. Our research shows workers crave true flexibility and many are seeking personalised hybrid working arrangements (part office, part home) beyond COVID-19. To reap the productivity gains from a thriving workforce, workplaces need to evolve and adapt their practices to provide contemporary support and tools to effectively help their people thrive in a range of situations – both at home and/or in the office.”
People who worked remotely at least some of the time reported that their workplaces were more mentally healthy than onsite-only workers, with overall thriving workplace scores of 68.1 and 64.0 (out of 100) respectively. Remote workers reported clear benefits in terms of leadership, connectedness, policy, capability and culture.
The research also shows that people intuitively know which working arrangements maximise their productivity and wellbeing. Workers who would prefer to spend more time working remotely were more productive off-site than on-site. Conversely, workers who would prefer to spend more time on-site had higher productivity there compared to off-site, although many reported that inadequate home offices and technology issues contributed to their preference.
Nearly two-thirds (63.4%) of workers are happy with their balance of on-site and remote work and are highly productive. However, their preferences are impacted by whether people have actually tried working remotely. Only 17.9% of people who didn’t work remotely would like to, whereas 92.3% of people who actually worked remotely want to continue doing so.
Trialling remote work where possible would give workplaces the opportunity to potentially improve productivity long-term and create mentally healthier environments for people to work.
There are a wide variety of roles where it’s possible to work remotely on a regular basis, but workers are facing strong resistance from their workplaces. Managers appear to be the biggest barrier, with many workers reporting that managers don’t trust them to work effectively without oversight, find team communication more difficult, or simply don’t know where to start. Workplace policies that prioritise on-site attendance are another major hurdle, along with inadequate technology infrastructure and equipment. All of these may decrease productivity as well as having a negative impact on workers’ wellbeing.
Although some workers need to be physically present to complete their tasks, such as nurses, on-site IT technicians, plumbers and checkout operators, workplaces still have plenty of options available to them. The research shows that many organisations have been intentionally supporting their employees’ wellbeing over the last year.
“1 in 3 people surveyed say the workplace initiatives that specifically targeted mental health and wellbeing were the best, with overwhelmingly positive feedback for initiatives such as mental health days, wellbeing leave and a variety of internal and external mental health support options. Other popular initiatives focused on positive leadership, flexible work hours, physical wellbeing and positive culture. And we have an enormous array of solutions and resources to help workplaces address these areas,” Lydon says.
“Having an effective strategy and policy in place that focuses on the mental health and wellbeing of your people is one of the first steps towards creating a mentally healthy workplace, with many other tips and practical advice available throughout the report”.
To access this year’s extensive research findings, including 19 industry profiles, visit: itw2021.superfriend.com.au.
Part two of the 2021 Indicators of a Thriving Workplaces will be released in early December and will focus on casual workers, discrimination and effective workplace actions. Part three, the Gender Report, will be released in March 2022 to coincide with International Women’s Day.