Is a mental health epidemic for Australian workers imminent?

Some interesting research was released in June finding an overworked and under rewarded Australian workforce on the brink of a mental health epidemic.  According to a Gartner’s Q1 2019 Global Talent Monitor, Australian workplaces have exhausted staff morale and decimated effort level in the pursuit of growth and productivity.

The data reveals that discretionary effort levels – the willingness to go above and beyond at work – have dropped to the lowest point since Q1 2014, suggesting that without change, the workforce simply cannot give any more.

In Australia, 15.7% of employees reported high discretionary effort levels in Q1 2019, only slightly above the global average of 15%, and down from a high of 23% in Q2 2017.

Is a mental health epidemic for Australian workers imminent

According to Aaron McEwan, Advisory Leader in the Gartner HR practice, “Growth targets are high, and for years, organisations have expected their workers to do more with less and achieve continuous results against a backdrop of constant change and increasing complexity.”

“Workers are acutely aware of what their employers want from them; they’re feeling pressure to work longer hours, often without pay, and take work home in order to meet deadlines. With the added stress of ‘always on’ technology and flat wage growth, it’s not surprising that employees are feeling overworked, disrespected, stressed and anxious.”

Gartner’s data reveals that the number one reason employees cite for leaving their job is respect, or lack of it. Respect rose seven places in Q1 2019 to become the leading driver of attrition among Australian workers. This was followed by manager quality, up two places.

What can be done?

Gartner suggests that organisations need to declutter and focus on the needs of employees.  Changes such as stripping away time-intensive, low-value tasks that slow people down. Reducing the number of steps involved in reviewing and signing-off on annual leave or expense reports, reducing reporting or automating workflow could all contribute to a more productive and satisfying day for employees.

The data found that the top drivers of attraction for Australian employees are work-life balance, a convenient location and respect.  In addition, organisations with a strong Employee Value Proposition (EVP) focussing on what employees value most can potentially decrease annual employee turnover by just less than 70%.

For SME’s striving to balance daily commitments as well as growth opportunities and cash flow, the mental health of employees (as well as that of the business owner) can fall way down the priority list.  However, the research from Gartner really highlights the importance of focusing on the wellbeing of employees – not only for retention but also to have people on board who believe in the business and are happy to help move it forward with you.  Small business is often described as more agile than their larger counterparts, and we think there is a real opportunity for them to lead the way on this issue.

Read more from Gartner here.

Some additional resources for businesses around mental health: