A range of poor work experiences are leading to higher anxiety and reduced happiness in the Australian workforce.

People who are lacking recognition, concentration, and engagement at work have more mental health issues than those who have positive work experiences.

Recently 14,000 Australian employees participated in an online survey in an attempt to understand mental health issues impacting Australian workforces.
The findings suggest that the prevalence of mental health disorders is high with 15% of employees significantly affected by mental health disorders, 70% of women and 50% of men rated feeling anxious very often, and 55% of workers feel very depressed.

The elements that contributing to poor mental health in the workplace include:

Work is a significant source of stress

Work experiences are a significant cause of stress for workers. A third of employees rate their work-life balance as poor, 8 out of 10 frequently experience stress at work, and half of all employees find it hard to switch off from work.

Three key areas of employees’ experiences at work that impact mental health:

Engaging at work. Employees who are engaged experience less anxiety and depression and have fewer mental health issues (15% less) than those who feel disengaged. These employees are also over 30% happier while at work.

Receiving recognition. Feeling a strong sense of achievement is vital for mental health. Employees who rate a high sense of achievement are 30% happier at work, 20% less down/ depressed, and 15% less affected by mental health conditions.

Decreasing concentration. One-third of employees’ state that their concentration at work is low. They also rate being 30% less happy while at work than employees with high levels of concentration.

Working hard diminishes sleep quality

While 7-9 hours is the recommended healthy amount of sleep, 40% of employees are not achieving this. It seems that work is pushing employees to sleep less. According to the findings, half of those who sleep less than five hours each night completed an additional eight hours of work each week.

Meanwhile, people who got the recommended amount of sleep reported that they had reduced anxiety and stress, more energy, and a better work-life balance.

The effect of too little, or too much, sleep on the mental wellbeing of the employees include:

Employees who sleep less than seven hours per night are 25% more stressed;
Employees who sleep less than five hours per night are close to 20% more stressed; and
Employees who sleep more than 10 hours per night have 50% less energy.

Mental wellbeing challenges impact women and men

25% of women and 36% of men rate their wellbeing as being very good. The remainder rates their wellbeing as being either average or low.

Even though 70% of our female respondents reported feeling anxious most of the time, many men also suffer from anxiety. Among the male employees that were surveyed, 52% reported that they felt very anxious.

When it comes to sleep, men and women are not getting enough of it. Two-thirds of the women rate their sleep quality as being low, and not surprisingly, nearly three-quarters of the women reported low energy levels. The majority of the men that were surveyed were only getting six hours of sleep per night.

Physical fitness is also a challenge for both men and women. A quarter of the female employees reported that they do not exercise at all. As for men, while 40% exercise, they only do it two days a week and 16% said they don’t exercise at all.

Young and old are feeling the strain

The impact of poor workplace wellbeing is felt across all ages. Employees aged 16–24 report the highest rates of depression, with 62% of this age group stating they felt depressed during the week of our survey. Despite the rates of depression dropping in the 45+ age group, it’s still a significant percentage with 40% of people in this age group experiencing depression.

The data clearly shows that anxiety and depression is prevalent in Australian workplaces and is affecting employee’s wellbeing. So, it’s crucial to foster a positive workplace culture that reduces the number of employees suffering from mental health problems. Practical ways how employers can help include:

Encourage employee self-care
As everyone is unique, it’s essential that managers allow their employees time for self-care. What works for one employee may not be effective with another. So, give them permission to take time for themselves so they can engage in activities that work for them.

Prioritise a healthy diet
Our research found that employees with a healthy diet are 25% more positive and have 23% fewer mental health conditions. Give your employees access to healthy snacks at work, stick to healthy catering during company functions, or help them to find useful healthy eating articles.

Fit in time for fitness
Participating in physical activity for six or more days a week increases positivity by 10% and decreases anxiety by the same percentage. Don’t shy away from activities that get your teams moving. Organise regular walks, fitness classes or if you can afford it, subsidise employee gym memberships as part of employee benefits.

Stick to regular break times
Taking frequent lunch breaks reduces anxiety by 10%. Meanwhile, regular short breaks increase positivity by 15%. Respect your employees’ break times by avoiding meetings during their lunch breaks and checking on them to remind them to take regular breaks throughout the day.

For further support & advice contact EAP Assist.