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

28 February 2022

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 conversation3 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 leave4.

The new research comes as Allianz data reveals workplace mental health injuries are continuing to rise, with active psychological injury claims increasing 12 per cent since the pandemic began5. 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 employees6 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.

Allianz tips for conducting crucial conversations:
FOR EMPLOYEES. WHERE POSSIBLE:

FOR EMPLOYERS, WHERE POSSIBLE:


Media enquiries
Allianz Media Team // media@allianz.com.au

Notes to Editors:
To view the toolkits, see here.

About the research
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.

About the Allianz Workers Compensation claims data
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.


1 Research commissioned by Allianz and conducted by YouGov Plc between 7th and 12th December 2021
2 Allianz Workers Compensation claims data comparing primary psychological active claims to December 2021 from December 2019, from the Allianz Australia Workers' Compensation Underwritten Portfolio
3 A crucial conversation is a discussion with high stakes, differing opinions and strong emotions. These conversations, when handled poorly or ignored, can lead to strained relationships, poor results and even to broader issues of mental health in the workplace
4 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
5 Allianz Workers Compensation claims data comparing primary psychological active claims to December 2021 from December 2019, from the Allianz Australia Workers' Compensation Underwritten Portfolio
6 82 per cent