Senior managers report significantly better mental health at work than non-managers and entry-level staff, research for Diversity Council Australia finds

“I have a personal theory that there’s something about the kind of person that can traverse an organizational hierarchy, there might be a greater resilience bandwidth for some reason…but that’s not is just an opinion.”

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Mental health issues were included in the council’s biennial Workplace Inclusion Index because the topic had become prominent in the COVID-19 pandemic, when the survey of people from all sectors and all demographic data was conducted.

Contrary to perceptions that the stigma associated with discussing mental health had diminished, data showed that 40% of those who had experienced poor mental health in the previous year did not discuss it at work.

A third of people said workplace experiences had a negative impact on their mental health. A similar percentage of people said work had a positive effect on their mental health.

“Another thing we’ve seen is that senior managers aren’t held accountable for the mental health of their workplace, and because there’s a lack of accountability, they can operate with impunity,” he said. Annese.

Professor Ian Hickie, co-director of health and policy at the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre, said there was ample research evidence to support the Diversity Council’s conclusion that older people had better mental health at work.

“It’s a finding well replicated in many organizations: those at the top have much greater personal autonomy, flexibility in working arrangements, as well as status and other rewards. As a result, their mental health and well-being are much better,” he said.

“For those with poor mental health at work, we need to create much more connected and supportive relationships in the workplace. Within these much more trusting and authentic relationships, people feel much more comfortable revealing their personal struggles.

Hickie said relationships at work are often the most important and supportive relationships people have outside of their families, “and real relationships are essential to ongoing mental health and well-being.”

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The executive director of the Black Dog Institute, psychiatrist Professor Samuel Harvey, a workplace mental health researcher, said large studies had shown where a person was in the hierarchy “made a big difference to their mental health” for various reasons, including job security, control over their work, and having an income that allows them to worry less about money.

Employees in their early twenties were at the peak age for the onset of mental health issues, so senior managers often had the mental health age advantage.

Employers could extend mental health benefits to less experienced employees by making sure they feel safe and have some control, Harvey said.

“What comes down to leadership…if you have senior leaders who can talk about their own vulnerability and put in place policies that support workers, that’s hugely important,” he said. It was essential that managers were trained in how to have conversations about mental health, he added.

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Annese said members of inclusive teams were seven times more likely than those of non-inclusive teams to report that their workplace had a positive effect on mental health.

“Employers must take steps to proactively break the stigma around poor mental health and create workplaces where people feel safe to speak up and seek support for their struggles,” she said.

“It is also crucial that business leaders recognize that their seniority makes a difference in the mental health experience of employees.″⁣

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