Creating empathy-led and inclusive workplaces

14 June 2024

Allianz is committed to embracing diversity and empowering people to be their best. We want Australian workplaces to be mentally safe spaces of inclusion and belonging where everyone can thrive.

 We hope our research findings urge organisations to recognise and support the unique experiences of their employees. In doing so, both the organisations and their employees can reap the benefits of diversity. These include increased creativity, productivity, better decision making, and more mentally healthy environments.

In our seventh iteration of research into the state of workplace mental health in Australia, we set out to explore diverse experiences of people at work. This was particularly from the lens of gender, generational and cultural diversity, and people living with a disability.

Our research sheds light on a widening empathy gap. Nearly a third (31%) of surveyed employees reported feeling a lack of compassion from their manager towards their personal circumstances. 

Cost of living continues to have a direct impact on employee sentiment towards work. Nearly half (46%) of surveyed employees said cost of living pressures are negatively impacting their job satisfaction.

Unfortunately, the number of Allianz Workers' Compensation Primary Psychological claims is increasing. The number of active claims over the last five years has increased by almost 50%. The average cost of these claims has also increased by almost 30% over the same period of time.

The friction caused by economic pressures and internal employee wellbeing challenges can naturally lead to mental health challenges.

Work needs to be done to provide workplace mental health support for a diverse range of needs. Drawing from our research, we’ve come up with some practical insights. These will help create productive, safe, inclusive, and supportive workplaces for everyone.

Industry research demonstrates that a diverse workforce is associated with improved business outcomes. It’s crucial that organisations focus on supporting all people, regardless of their differences.

It’s both important and beneficial for organisations to take practical steps to better understand and support their employees.

We understand a diverse and inclusive workplace is linked to improvements in:

✔ Profit and performance

✔ Innovation and creativity

✔ Talent management

✔ Employee engagement

✔ Employee wellbeing

Surveyed employees say their ideal diverse workforce is described as a place where:

  • People feel they belong, no matter their personal experiences and characteristics (43%)
  • People can bring their whole self to work and be accepted and celebrated for who they are (41%)
  • There’s greater age diversity amongst people in leadership positions (39%)
  • There’s greater gender diversity amongst people in leadership positions (38%)
  • There’s greater diversity in cultural background amongst people in leadership positions (36%)
  • There are improved pathways for people with physical disabilities to hold leadership positions (33%)
  • There are improved pathways for people with neurodivergence needs to hold leadership positions (26%)
Julie Mitchell, Chief General Manager Personal Injury, Allianz Australia

Australian organisations are operating in a complex environment as they navigate the needs of a diverse workforce. They’re balancing the friction between economic pressures, such as cost of living, and internal employee wellbeing challenges, such as a perceived empathy gap and a lack of compassion.

Our research shows that it’s not just what’s going on within the workplace that’s affecting the job satisfaction of Australian employees. External economic factors also play a part. Many employees are looking for stability in their jobs to help with financial pressures, even if they’re unhappy at work.

Australian workers were surveyed on factors that negatively affect their job satisfaction.

Forty six percent said cost of living pressure was their main concern.
Thirty three percent said they didn’t feel as though they were rewarded enough at work.
Twenty five percent felt stressed due to staff shortages increasing their workload.

The cost of living was reported as having the most negative impact on job satisfaction across all generations. Specifically, 49% of Gen Z, 48% of Gen X, and 47% of Millennials expressed feeling this way. This is compared to 36% of Baby Boomers.

The impact of cost of living was felt more by certain groups. For example, 62% of neurodiverse employees and 53% of employees with disabilities felt it.

Managers also felt the impact of the cost of living on their teams. It was identified as the main concern by 43% of surveyed managers.

The number of active Allianz Workers Compensation Primary Psychological claims has gone up by 47.5% over the last five years. The average cost of these claims has also increased by 29.2% over the same period of time. This trend has carried into 2024, with claims continuing to increase in the first quarter.

The main drivers of these claims are work-related harassment, bullying, work pressure or stress and burnout. These account for 76-78% of all Allianz primary psychological claims.

Not only is the number of claims going up, but the amount of days taken off work has too. Our claims data shows there was a 30.2% increase in average days off for primary psychological claims from 2019 to 2023. These claims accounted for an average of 76 employee leave days per claim.

Survey participants reported

Nearly half (48%) of employees have reported feeling fatigued and burnt out.
Managers are half as likely (23%) to say their employees have felt fatigued and burnt out in the last 12 months.
Nearly three in five managers (58%) believe their employees never feel fatigued and burnt out due to work.

Core to these challenges is a perceived empathy gap facing Australian workplaces. There seems to be a lack of compassion or a bias when supporting the needs and experiences of diverse employees.

Our research shows that organisations are struggling to meet the needs of diverse groups, such as those who are living with a disability or those from diverse cultural backgrounds. A quarter of managers surveyed acknowledge there’s an empathy gap in their workplace. This gap is also felt amongst 31% of employees.

Of the managers surveyed, 85% believe they show empathy and compassion to their team regarding personal circumstances that affect their work. However, less than half of surveyed employees (46%) believed this to be true.

Unconscious biases are like blind spots in the way we think. They can make us treat people unfairly without meaning to. It happens in the background of our minds, based on what we've learned and experienced. This bias can sneak into our decisions without us noticing.

Managers surveyed reported

Nearly half of managers (45%) acknowledge they may have an unconscious bias towards their team. 
Thirty six percent of employees with a disability and 34% of neurodiverse employees believe their manager has an unconscious bias regarding their ability to do their job effectively.
One in three Millennial employees say there’s an unconscious bias in the workplace from their managers (32%) and colleagues (32%).

Surveyed employees from diverse groups believe their individual characteristics impact how they’re perceived and the opportunities they are offered in the workplace.

  • Physical disability (34%)
  • Neurodivergence (31%)
  • Cultural background (30% of non-Australian citizens, compared with just 18% of Australian citizens)
  • Age (27%)
  • Gender (19%)

Australian managers who were surveyed acknowledge that their organisation has an unconscious bias towards the following factors when hiring or retaining staff.

  • Age (50%)
  • Gender (36%)
  • Physical disability (35%)
  • Cultural background (33%)
  • Neurodivergence (30%)

Many of the surveyed employees say they have withheld information about their personal situation due to fear of being perceived poorly by their manager or organisation.

  • Neurodivergence (42%)
  • Disability (39%)
  • Gender (24% of females, compared with 19% of males)

Unconscious bias can lead to a business missing out on the unique perspectives, skills, and talents that diverse employees bring. Their diverse thinking, experiences and problem-solving abilities can lead to innovative ideas, creative solutions, and new approaches to challenges.

Australian employees and managers are divided on their perceptions around their organisation’s ability to create diverse, mentally healthy workplaces. They also have different expectations for what a future, inclusive workforce looks like.

Eighty five percent of surveyed managers were satisfied with their organisation’s ability to create a mentally healthy workplace in the last 12 months. This is compared to just 65% of surveyed employees. In fact, only 24% of surveyed employees, significantly down from 33% in 2023, say their employer has gone above and beyond to provide support and systems to create a mentally healthy workplace.

Over three-quarters (77%) of surveyed managers believe they’re proactive in recognising their employees’ work. They believe this applies to giving promotions and pay rises without the employee having to raise these issues with them. However, just 42% of surveyed employees share the same sentiment.

Organisations must lead with empathy and inclusion to support the needs of all Australian employees. This is regardless of age, gender, cultural background, neurodivergence or disability, both visible and invisible. This is how internal barriers are overcome. This is how we create a new workforce. Both employees (26%) and managers (25%) agree that more action can be taken within their workplace to support diverse mental health needs.

"By leading with empathy and inclusion, managers can create an emotionally intelligent and safe space for all employees, no matter their gender, generation, cultural background or experience of disability and neurodiversity. Only by doing so will they reap the benefits of the new workforce including increased productivity, creativity, improved decision-making and much more”, says Julie Mitchell.

Our research shows organisations are planning to invest in diversity and inclusion practices and mental health support services over the next 12 months. This demonstrates an awareness of these issues by Australian businesses. It shows they want to reap the rewards of a diverse workplace in improving business outcomes.

Australian managers surveyed say their organisations plan to invest an average of $38,770.57 in diversity, inclusion and mental health over the next 12 months. This equates to $27.8 billion across all Australian businesses.

While investment is encouraging, action must be taken to support the unique experiences of diverse employees and provide tailored support.

To improve support for diverse needs in the workplace, employees have said their organisation can lead with empathy through:

  • Improving opportunities for open and transparent conversations about individual workplace needs. For example, mental health and flexible working conditions (39%).
  • Putting in place channels to voice workplace concerns, such as negative culture, bullying or harassment (39%).
  • Creating inclusive and empathic spaces to build a healthy workplace culture (36%).
  • Fair and equal pay for employees in the same role, regardless of age, gender, or ability (35%).
  • Training sessions for all employees on diversity, inclusion, mental health, and unconscious bias (33%).

Dr Sarah Cotton, organisational psychologist and Co-Director of Transitioning Well says, “Through my work, it’s clear that managers are navigating a highly complex working environment, amongst a diverse workforce that is calling for workplaces to embrace the whole person.”

“It’s critical that organisations view their people as more than just workers and take the time to truly understand the often messy intersections between life and work in order to provide tailored support in meaningful and holistic ways.”

For tips on how to better understand and embrace diversity in the workplace, download our unpacking the new workforce guide (PDF, 15.7 MB).

Diversity Council Australia provides research, resources, and training to help organisations build diverse and inclusive workplaces. They offer practical tools and guidance on diversity and inclusion topics.

The Australian Human Rights Commission offers a clear guide to inclusive practice for employers. This includes practical strategies to create diverse and accepting workplaces.

The National Mental Health Commission Career Transition Series provides workplaces with research-led and practical approaches. These help support a range of diverse and person-centered experiences in the workplace. It looks at eight key moments of transition, challenge, and opportunity.

Mentally Healthy Workplaces is an evidence-based hub supported by the National Mental Health Commission. It provides guidance on creating mentally healthy workplaces, and opportunities to learn from other workplaces through practical examples.

We want to embrace diversity and empower people to be their best. We want our work environment to be one of inclusion and belonging.

You can read about our approach by visiting the Allianz Careers diversity, inclusion and belonging page.

Discover more of our research on workplace mental health, including practical tips you can implement in your organisation.

The research was commissioned by Allianz and conducted by YouGov in accordance with the Australian Polling Council standard. The survey is a nationally representative sample comprised of 1613 employees (middle managers and below) and 513 managers (senior managers and above) in Australia aged 18 years and older.

This study was conducted online between 24 April 2024 and 6 May 2024. Following the completion of interviewing, the data was weighted by age, gender and region to reflect the latest ABS population estimates.

Allianz defines neurodivergence as the natural variation in how our brains work and process information. It includes conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and more.

Allianz defines ‘disability’ when used for employment-related purposes based on the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers. Persons are considered to have a disability if they have a limitation, restriction or impairment, which has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least six months and restricts everyday activities. This includes:

Sensory

  • Loss of sight (not corrected by glasses or contact lenses)
  • Loss of hearing where communication is restricted, or an aid to assist with, or substitute for, hearing is used
  • Speech difficulties

Intellectual

  • Difficulty learning or understanding things.

Physical

  • Shortness of breath or breathing difficulties that restrict everyday activities
  • Blackouts, seizures or loss of consciousness
  • Chronic or recurrent pain or discomfort that restricts everyday activities
  • Incomplete use of arms or fingers
  • Difficulty gripping or holding things
  • Incomplete use of feet or legs
  • Restriction in physical activities or in doing physical work
  • Disfigurement or deformity.

Psychosocial

  • Nervous or emotional condition that restricts everyday activities
  • Mental illness or condition requiring help or supervision
  • Memory problems or periods of confusion that restrict everyday activities
  • Social or behavioural difficulties that restrict everyday activities.

Head injury, stroke or acquired brain injury

  • Head injury, stroke or other acquired brain injury, with long-term effects that restrict everyday activities.

Other

  • Receiving treatment or medication for any other long-term conditions or ailments and still restricted in everyday activities
  • Any other long-term conditions resulting in a restriction in everyday activities

Survey participants were asked to self-categorise both their disability and neurodivergence status.

Allianz acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we live and work across Australia. We pay our respect to First Nations Elders past and present.



Any advice here does not take into account your individual objectives, financial situation or needs. Terms, conditions, limits, and exclusions apply. Before making a decision about this insurance, consider the relevant Product Disclosure Statement (PDS)/Policy Wording and Supplementary PDS (if applicable). Where applicable, the PDS/Policy Wording, Supplementary PDS and Target Market Determination (TMD) for this insurance are available on this website. We do not provide any form of advice if you call us to enquire about or purchase a product.

Allianz Australia Insurance Limited ABN 15 000 122 850 AFS Licence No. 234708 is the insurer of any general insurance products offered, and Allianz Australia Life Insurance Limited ABN 27 076 033 782 AFS Licence No. 296559 is the insurer of any life insurance products offered. Each entity is responsible for any statements and representations made about its products, on this website.