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Aussie female workers experience more mental health issues than male colleagues

New research from SuperFriend paints a disconcerting picture of the volume of ill-health being suffered by women in the workplace in Australia.

According to The Gender Identity Report – taken from SuperFriend’s annual Indicators of a Thriving Workplace (ITW) Report, which surveyed over 1,000 Australian workers – over half of all Australian women in the workforce (55 per cent) have reportedly experienced a mental health condition.

Moreover, one-quarter believe their workplace either caused or worsened their mental health condition.

“Despite the heightened focus on women’s experiences at work following the #MeToo movement, and an increasing focus on ensuring fair remuneration and workplace opportunities, the report has found that Australian women are further from thriving in 2019 than the previous year. Women now trail behind male colleagues on two-thirds of the 40 desired indicators of a thriving workplace,” SuperFriend said in a statement.

“The notable decline has been most evident for women who are working full-time, representing the largest group of women in the workforce.”

The report also found that women working part-time were increasingly thriving in their workplaces.

In the full-time workforce, men are closer to thriving than women, but men working casually are the furthest from thriving and the gap is widening.

The downturn is centred around male casual workers in the 18-35 age group (down 7 points) due to substantial declines in the leadership and culture domains (both down more than 10 points), two of the five essential domains for creating a thriving workplace.

Commenting on the findings, SuperFriend chief executive Margo Lydon, said, “Within the full-time workforce, it’s far more common for women to have negative experiences at work than men. But what we’re seeing across both male and female workers, is a reported decline in accessibility and willingness to listen from leadership.

“Our research consistently points to the critical importance of good leadership when it comes to the mental health of an organisation’s workers.”

Improvements in workplace bullying and discrimination

Nearly a quarter of men and women (22 per cent) describe their job as highly stressful. With regard to the top factors impacting workers, women are stressed more frequently than their male counterparts (38 per cent versus 35 per cent), specifically around their workload, and dealing with customers and colleagues.

Job insecurity remains the most common experience regardless of gender, but while it’s becoming less of an issue for women, it’s rising for men aged between 45-64 years, the report said.

Bullying and discrimination in the workplace are declining for both genders, SuperFriend continued, however, bullying is still more common among women.

But the most worrying increase found in the analysis of the results pertains to work-related insomnia among women.

“This has moved into the top three issues negatively impacting working Australian women. Peaking in the 35-44 age group (27 per cent), women under the age of 25 drove the recent spike (22 per cent),” the statement noted.

“Stress is a normal part of life, but prolonged stress can have detrimental effects on our mental and physical health. Organisations can support workers by working together with their staff in planning for stress as a team, co-creating a safe and accountable space, and making sure their leaders are accessible,” said Ms Lydon.

Breaking down barriers

A slightly higher proportion of men believe that their workplace is taking action (44 per cent versus 42 per cent of women) in creating a mentally healthy workplace.

“Among those whose workplaces have not taken any action, a skills gap among managers is the most common barrier,” SuperFriend noted.

“In those workplaces, the same proportion of men and women believe that cost is a major barrier, but women see several other barriers ahead of that, particularly lack of commitment from the top.”

Currently, the statement continued, only 11 per cent of workplaces have a policy in place to ensure mental health and wellbeing training occurs regularly.

“At a time when gender equality, workplace relations and attracting and retaining women across all industries is of key importance, there are many steps organisations can take to make their workplaces more inclusive,” Ms Lydon mused.

“One of the most effective ways to improve worker wellbeing, across an entire workforce, is to ensure that all leaders regularly participate in mental health and wellbeing training. Establishing this as a workplace policy, is one of the most crucial characteristics that indicate a workplace is thriving, and can have far reaching positive effects for the business as well as every worker, every day.”

“The most successful organisations today are the ones that are committed to diversity and inclusion and creating an environment in which all employees can thrive and bring their best selves to work,” she concluded.

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