Balance in the modern workplace lacking as thousands of Australians avoid mental health discussions

1 September 2021
  • Workplace mental health (psychological) injury claims are increasing, as 69 per cent of the Australian employees surveyed by Allianz reveal they have not had a conversation with their employer about their mental health since the start of the pandemic.
  • New Allianz research reveals there is a growing disconnect between employee and employer views when it comes to mental health.
  • Finding balance in the modern workplace has become a priority for individuals and organisations in the evolving pandemic, as Allianz encourages employees and employers to take action to foster mentally healthy workplaces.

Managing mental health and subsequent psychological injuries continues to be a pressure point for Australian workplaces as the global pandemic evolves and presents different challenges. Leading Workers' Compensation insurer, Allianz, has released data revealing workplace mental health injuries are on the rise – with active psychological claims increasing by five per cent, for the last financial year (Allianz Australia Underwritten Workers' Compensation insurance portfolio claims data comparing the 2019/20 (July 2019 to June 2020) and 2020/21 (July 2020 to June 2021) years as at the end of each year).

In addition to this increase in psychological claims, new research from Allianz has found 69 per cent of Australian employees surveyed have not had a conversation with their employer about their mental health since the start of the pandemic. This trend remains unchanged compared to 2020 (69 per cent), per Allianz Finding Balance in the Modern Workplace Report 2020 data comparison. The urgency for open dialogue around mental health couldn’t be more pressing in the workplace with the Allianz claims data showing that the average cost per active psychological claim is around 3.5 times that of active claims for physical injuries (for the period July 2016 to June 2021 for active claims from the Allianz Australia Underwritten Workers' Compensation insurance portfolio).

COVID-19 has not only raised concerns about employee mental health, but also the lack of strategies that organisations have in place to support employees, with 43 per cent of those surveyed saying their workplace has not introduced new mental health initiatives since the start of the pandemic.

The Allianz research of Australian employees and senior managers across industries shows that while both employees and employers agree there are challenges in the workplace, they also see a disparity between their challenges. Experiencing worries or concerns with balancing work and personal life since the pandemic (67 per cent), increased pressure and workload (31 per cent) and ineffective or unfair management (27 per cent) are the main pressure points for employees. Employers, on the other hand, say that employees working remotely (68 per cent), maintaining a positive culture (28 per cent) and completing targets/deadlines (28 per cent) are the biggest negative impact from a management perspective.

Mitch Wallis, Founder of Heart On My Sleeve, said, “Since the pandemic, it has become harder to learn how to balance work and personal life – it is an ongoing issue that employees and employers are trying to get right. We no longer have those physical cues when we finish work for the day, the leaving of a building, closing of a laptop or a social interaction with colleagues. As humans, we crave this certainty, we crave knowing what to do, how to do it and when to do it. However, the pandemic has presented challenges in the workplace that have increasingly blurred the lines between professional and personal, across all industries.

“Employees want to feel supported, and to know that they can switch off and transition to their personal life at the end of a day. It’s more important than ever to foster an open, empathetic and educated culture that respects work-life balance by providing a space that nourishes and supports mental health and wellbeing.”

Not only has the research highlighted the evolving challenges that come with operating in a pandemic world, but it has also established that the line between work and personal life is blurred (45 per cent). More than two in five (46 per cent) Australian employees surveyed across all industries who find it difficult to separate their work and personal life say this is because they don’t have a transitional space and 40 per cent feel there is an expectation to work longer hours due to COVID-19. Additionally, more than three quarters (77 per cent) of Australian employees say they work some form of overtime to complete set tasks.

According to Dr Adam Fraser, author of The Third SpaceTM, “Finding balance in the modern workplace has been increasingly difficult with the loss of the ‘Third Space’. The ‘First Space’ is what you’re doing now. The ‘Second Space’ is what you’re about to do and the ‘Third Space’ is the gap in the middle. Organisations need to look to create a workplace that fosters and rewards people for making time for themselves and their Third Space.

“Despite this needing to be a priority, individuals and organisations are struggling to find a healthy balance as industries respond to the changing demands of the pandemic. More so than ever, employers feel obliged to not only support employees during the working hours of the day, but also feel responsible for making sure their team finds time to switch off and transition from work to personal life.”

Eighteen months into the pandemic, employees feel their professional and personal lives are becoming blurred, as an alarming 70 per cent feel they don’t have the opportunity to utilise their Third Space (Fraser, A (2021) The Third Space. Penguin Life (Original work published 2012)). The breakdown in the Third Space can be seen in over 45 per cent of employees feeling there are fewer boundaries with their employer. In addition, employees are feeling the weight of expectation to work beyond set hours to ensure the business survives COVID-19 (40 per cent). Beyond this, employees are not able to utilise their Third Space as they feel if work calls, they answer (36 per cent), it’s hard to turn off work-related technology (35 per cent), it’s hard to make time for themselves (34 per cent), they don’t take regular lunch breaks (28 per cent) and for those working from home it means there is no separation between work and personal life (28 per cent).

Julie Mitchell, Chief General Manager, Personal Injury at Allianz Australia said, “Not all injuries in the workplace are physical, they can be mental too. We’re observing growth in the number of people accessing benefits for a psychological claim related to their workplace. What’s more, while the pandemic is impacting injured workers' return to work – with treatments and appointments delayed – due to lockdowns, the loss of routine also has a direct correlation with an individual's recovery and holistic wellbeing.

“We’re encouraging preventative measures and resources as key to supporting employees’ mental health while living in a pandemic world and beyond. The workplace needs to create a space that facilitates safe and secure conversations to ensure employees feel mentally supported throughout the pandemic and beyond. For this to happen, organisations need to constantly be updating and evolving their approach and making sure their team is aware of the support systems in place.”

Beyond the challenges in the workplace resulting from the pandemic, employers and employees are looking to the future of the workplace with hope and positivity. Nearly three quarters (74 per cent) of the nation's employers have a plan to implement mental health strategies and express more empathy and emotional intelligence (39 per cent), empower employee workplace flexibility (37 per cent) and create a space that fosters safe and collaborative environments (35 per cent).

Allianz is committed to supporting and providing tangible solutions on how to create and support employees in establishing and then utilising their Third Space. Allianz believes in creating workplaces that are safe and rewarding, and by championing transparent and empathetic conversations on mental health, so employees can focus, feel supported and thrive.

Through our Personal Injury Division, Allianz is a leading provider of Workers' Compensation and offers a range of support and services for the evolving needs of Australian employers and employees. Visit the Allianz Workplace Mental Health Hub to read our latest research report – Finding Balance in the Modern Workplace – and to learn how you can find or facilitate balance in the workplace and open up the dialogue between employees and employers.

  • Champion proactive discussions with your manager about your mental health by regular check-ins that foster a natural discussion
  • Suggest establishing clear parameters that suit your work–life balance. For example:

    • Set clear expectations about your working hours, or out-of-work commitments.
    • Make time to transition from work to personal life by listening to music, podcasts, reading or reconnecting with friends and family.
    • Avoid using work-related communications platforms outside of work hours.
    • Make time and schedule necessary breaks throughout the day and walk away from your devices, i.e. lunch or exercise.
  • Turning off notifications across your devices, i.e. emails and messaging applications, outside of the set working hours.
  • Encourage sharing feedback with your employer on the mental initiatives you’d like implemented in the workplace.
  • Encourage flexible working hours, for example through hybrid working models, or for shift-workers preferred days off.
  • Encourage the utilisation of the Third Space to allow employees to transition from work to personal life. For example:

    • Encourage employees to switch off from work at the end of the day by turning off their notifications and devices.
    • Schedule regular check-ins with employees to see how they are managing and utilising their Third Space.
    • Encourage open dialogue on how your team has positively taken time for themselves and prioritised their Third Space.
  • Practice empathy, encourage boundary setting and, as leaders, appreciate employees’ personal time outside of set work hours. For example:

    • While there will always be instances of emergencies or shift-work changes, where possible avoid contacting employees outside of set work hours through various communications channels.
    • Set guidelines and parameters that there is no expectation to respond to work-related communications outside of the working day and week.
    • Support employees by encouraging them to finish work at a reasonable hour, and lead by example.
    • Set tasks in the working day that are realistically achievable within their capacity/shift to avoid the loss of the Third Space.
The research was commissioned by Allianz and conducted by YouGov Plc. The survey was conducted online with a nationally representative sample of 1,049 Australian employees (middle managers and below designations) and a nationally representative sample of 524 Australian senior managers (senior managers and above designations) and was carried out between 26 July and 6 August 2021. All data was post-weighted by age, gender and region to reflect the latest population estimates.
Allianz Australia’s own data on incidence and cost of mental health in the workplace, relating to workers' compensation. The data has been taken from one data set – the Allianz Workers' Compensation Underwritten insurance portfolio – which covers workers' compensation claims across the privately underwritten states and territories of Australia.
For more information, contact Matea Rojas by email or on 0435 084 880.

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Allianz Australia delivers a wide range of personal, commercial and corporate insurance products and services to more than 4 million policyholders. It also provides support for workers compensation insurance to around 25% of the top 200 ASX companies, making it one of the leading workers compensation insurers in Australia.

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