Disconnect between employees and managers hinders crucial conversations as mental health injuries rise

28 February 2022
  • Research commissioned by Allianz and conducted by YouGov Plc between 7 - 12 December 2021 reveals two in five (43 per cent) employees are uncomfortable initiating crucial conversations in the workplace, with nearly a quarter (24 per cent) not satisfied with how often their manager checks in with them about their mental health.
  • Allianz Claims data (Allianz Australia Workers' Compensation Underwritten Portfolio comparing primary psychological active claims from December 2019 to December 2021) shows workplace mental health (psychological) injury claims have increased since pre-pandemic times, yet managers report that they are satisfied (90 per cent) by their workplaces’ ability to create a mentally healthy environment in the last 12 months.
  • To encourage employees and managers to have more open and honest conversations, Allianz has created the Crucial Conversations Toolkits. The toolkits provide both employees and managers with tips to navigate crucial – and sometimes uncomfortable – conversations about challenges in the workplace. 

Despite a new year and revitalised hopes for stability, Australian workers are experiencing further disruption as the pandemic continues to put pressure on the workplace. From unsustainable workloads, challenges around career progression or difficulty achieving work–life balance, new research from leading Workers' Compensation Insurer Allianz Australia has revealed 79 per cent of employees are looking to initiate a crucial conversation with their manager this year, yet more than 2 in 5 (43 per cent) do not feel comfortable initiating such a discussion. 

A crucial conversation is a discussion with high stakes, differing opinions and strong emotions. When handled poorly or avoided, these conversations can lead to broader mental health issues in the workplace, including strained relationships, decreased productivity, employee dissatisfaction, or extended periods of leave. The definition of ‘crucial conversations’ is sourced from ‘Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High’ (Patterson et al., 2012) and was further developed in conjunction with active clinical mental health professionals.

The new research comes as Allianz Claims data (Allianz Australia Workers' Compensation Underwritten Portfolio comparing primary psychological active claims from December 2019 to December 2021) reveals workplace mental health injuries are continuing to rise, with active psychological injury claims increasing 12 per cent since the pandemic began. In response, Allianz is seeking to understand the current challenges facing both employees and senior managers in the workplace, and the barriers in the way of conducting crucial conversations.

While the urgency for open dialogue around mental health in the workplace has never been clearer, more than a third (35 per cent) of employees do not feel satisfied with their employer’s ability to create a mentally healthy workplace, and nearly a quarter (24 per cent) are not satisfied with how often their manager checks in with them about their mental health.

In contrast, nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of managers say they proactively check in with team members regularly to create opportunities to share their concerns about mental health, however, almost a third (31 per cent) have an expectation that their teams need to make them aware. While 2 in 5 (43 per cent) managers believe that facilitating crucial conversations and having an open discussion promotes a mentally healthy workplace, the research found that 65 per cent of employees would not turn to their manager first to conduct these conversations, with 41 per cent of those turning to their peers or someone outside their workplace before their manager.

To encourage employees and employers to have more open and honest conversations, Allianz has developed the Crucial Conversations Toolkits available on the Allianz Workplace Mental Health Hub. The downloadable resources, released today, provide both employees and managers with tangible tips to facilitate effective conversations in the workplace.

Commenting on the current disconnect in an ever-changing employment landscape, Dr Mark Cross, mental health expert and author of Changing Minds and Anxiety said, “The Allianz research reveals that both employees and managers want, and expect, to be having crucial conversations, but there is a growing disconnect between both groups.'

“Employees feel their manager should proactively bring up difficult topics or discuss their mental health with them, whilst managers feel their direct reports should be responsible for bringing their concerns forward – this confusion is being felt across every industry and demographic. Organisations and individuals need to feel comfortable initiating and managing these conversations and this shift can only happen with a change in workplace culture, education and attitude.”

Australian employees rank the top three most uncomfortable topics to raise with their manager as requesting a pay rise (68 per cent), requesting a promotion (55 per cent), or raising issues around bullying and harassment (43 per cent). Similarly, managers rank their direct reports requesting a pay rise (53 per cent), discussing bullying and harassment (49 per cent), or requesting a promotion (47 per cent) are the top three most uncomfortable topics for them. Additionally, in 2022 managers are expecting their team to raise concerns around flexible working arrangements (55 per cent), increased pressure and workload (35 per cent) or extended leave (30 per cent).

Julie Mitchell, Allianz Australia’s Chief General Manager for Personal Injury said, “Many Australians have approached 2022 with new expectations and a fresh perspective around how they’ll manage work in their lives. Last year Australian employees told us that they are struggling to find balance, with the lines between work and personal time continuing to blur. To that effect, facilitating transparent conversations is critical to ensure expectations are managed and heard.

“While having open and honest conversations is extremely important to facilitate a mentally healthy workplace, the research shows employees are avoiding them or find them somewhat uncomfortable, creating a disconnect between managers and their staff.

“Whether it be about flexible working arrangements, annual leave or even a promotion, these topics are going to surface, and they need to be prioritised. The steady rise in psychological injury claims highlights that this needs to be a focus, yet our research has shown that the majority of employees (82 per cent) have not had training on how to conduct these conversations.

“At Allianz, we believe in creating environments that are safe and rewarding by championing transparent and empathetic conversations about mental health, so Australian workers can focus, feel supported and thrive,” continued Julie.

Through its 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 learn more about crucial conversations and access the Crucial Conversations Toolkits for employees and managers.

  • Write a list of the topics you want to discuss and think about how you’re going to discuss them. This can help you feel more confident when entering the conversation.
  • Know that it is ok to feel nervous, and consider speaking to a support person before, during or after your crucial conversation.
  • Clearly share your expectations for the meeting upfront, ensuring you’re working towards a positive outcome.
  • Approach the meeting with solutions in mind, while being open to negotiating to ensure the solution is suitable for all involved.
  • Follow up on the conversation in writing to ensure you and your manager are aligned on the discussion and agree on the solution that has been reached.
  • Before the meeting, look to understand what the discussion will be about so you can lean on internal resources or support teams where needed.
  • Bring an empathetic and respectful approach to the discussion. While you may not personally agree with the approach to the topic, expressing empathy will help you digest their perspective and allow them to feel heard.
  • Use verbal and body language techniques such as direct eye contact and relaxed voice and facial expressions to set a safe tone for the discussion.
  • Follow up in writing with the next steps following the conversation. Where appropriate, discuss the matter with your HR team or your own direct manager to determine an appropriate solution.
  • Suggest solutions to your organisation to further support your team, for example, modernising your workplace mental health policy.
To view and download the toolkits, visit Allianz Mental Health.
The research was commissioned by Allianz and conducted by YouGov Plc. The survey was conducted online with a nationally representative sample of 834 Australian employees (middle managers and below designations) and a nationally representative sample of 259 Australian senior managers (senior managers and above designations) and was carried out between 7th and 12th December 2021. All data was post-weighted by age, gender and region to reflect the latest population estimates.
Allianz Australia’s own data on incidence 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.
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