Indicators of a Thriving Workplace

National Report 2021

by

Part Two of the Indicators of a Thriving Workplace Report is now live.

Read new insights on:

Hot Topic

Workplace discrimination

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Industry Profile

Retail Trade

Skip to Industry Profiles and select Retail Trade industry

Hot Topic

Supporting our most vulnerable workers

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Industry Profile

Transport, Postal, and Warehousing

Skip to Industry Profiles and select Transport, Postal and Warehousing industry

Continue below to read full report

Australia’s largest annual survey for workplace mental health and wellbeing

10,000+ workers

40 indicators across 5 domains

Score of 80/100 indicates a Thriving workplace

Read more about the research
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This year’s Indicators of a Thriving Workplace Survey revealed

Australia’s national thriving workplace score

65.6/100

+0.5
0
100
Key

Graph: Australia Thriving Workplace Score year on year

Australian workplaces are on the up

The great news is we’ve seen the national thriving workplace score continue to climb from 65.1 in 2020 to 65.6 – not even a prolonged pandemic could stop Australia’s workplaces from improving! While workplaces are on the right track with the recent 0.5 point increase, most are still a long way from thriving.

Graph depicting Australia's thriving workplace score year on year.

Graph: Australia’s Thriving Workplace Score year on year

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Mental Health at a Glance

Most Australian workers experience a mental health condition in their lifetime (61.8%)

…and mental health conditions are on the rise for Aussie workers.

The proportion of working Australians who have reportedly experienced a mental health condition during their lifetime increased again over the last year, up from 59.5% to 61.8%. This includes those who said they experienced anxiety or depression but didn’t categorise it as a mental health condition.

More workers believe their mental health condition is related to their workplace

…nearly a quarter of workers believe they have a mental health condition that their workplace caused or made worse (22.3%).

People who believe their workplace caused their condition increased from 6.6% to 8.9%, while 13.5% believe their workplace made their condition worse (up from 10.5%). Non-work related mental health conditions also rose, up from 23.0% to 27.8%.

Of the 53.5% of Aussie workers who experienced a mental health condition in the last 12 months, the proportion is much higher for workers who…

Identify as female

62.3%

Are 18 – 24 years old

66.4%

Have a casual role

58.2%

Work in the Accommodation and Food Services industry*

61.0%

Are based in Victoria

56.6%

Victorian workers have had a particularly tough year:

36.0%

felt anxious

28.8%

felt depressed

21.6%

felt isolated
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Benefits of a thriving workplace 

When workplaces are thriving there are many benefits for both individual workers and the workplace as a whole.

9 in 10 people in thriving workplaces are:

Able to use their strengths at work

Satisfied with their job

Performing well in their role

Committed to achieving organisational goals

Thriving workplaces find it easier to attract and keep great workers.

7 in 10

people in thriving workplaces say their workplace attracts the best workers. This is 8 times higher than workplaces that are not thriving.

83.8%

of people in thriving workplaces plan on staying for another year. This is more than double the retention of workplaces that are not thriving.

The closer to thriving workplaces are, the more benefits they see for both the organisation and individual workers.

 

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Five Domains

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69.6/100

+0.2
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Culture

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66.0/100

+0.6
Read more

Capability

Read more

65.9/100

+1.2
Read more

Leadership

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63.8/100

-0.5
Read more

Policy

Read more

62.8/100

+1.4
Read more
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New in 2021

Psychosocial risks

Psychosocial risks are workplace operations that increase stress and reduce mental wellbeing.

For a workplace to be mentally healthy, it must have strong foundations and managing psychosocial risks is an essential part of these foundations.

National psychosocial risk ratings

At a national level, psychosocial risk ratings range from 2.1 to 2.5 on a scale from 1 to 5 where 5 is the highest risk. While workplace psychosocial risks are moderately low, action is needed to get closer to the lowest rating.

Inappropriate workload

Too much or too little work or responsibility

2.5

Low recognition

Lack of positive feedback, recognition or rewards for good work

2.5

Poor change management

Lack of clear communication, consultation or effective processes during workplace changes

2.5

Poor management support

Inadequate assistance or guidance from leaders

2.4

Low job control

Limited control over decisions relating to how work is performed

2.3

Poor role clarity

Limited understanding of work tasks, responsibilities or expectations

2.3

Poor workplace relationships

Interpersonal conflict, inappropriate behaviour, discrimination or bullying

2.3

Poor working environment

High temperatures or noise levels, cramped workspace, poor lighting or an unsafe environment

2.1

Traumatic events

Exposure to abuse or violence, or lack of support following trauma

2.1

Key:

The healthiest workplaces, those that are truly thriving, have very low risk ratings for all nine psychosocial risks.
Read more

Psychosocial risk ratings vary by industry

Scroll down to Industry Profiles to see your industry’s highest psychosocial risks

Workplace Profiles

You can narrow your search for the most relevant insights into workplace mental health by selecting:

The main industry your workplace operates in to see how it performed since 2020, the risks workers faced this year and how to prevent them in Industry Profiles.

The number of people in your organisation to assess how mentally healthy your workplace is compared to others of a similar size and how you can close the gap in Workplace Size Profiles.

The location of your workplace to see how other organisations are adapting and overcoming challenges in your region in Location Profiles.

Workplace Profiles

Industry Profiles

The industries with the top three thriving workplace scores are:
Rank

#1 /19

Information media and telecommunications

71.8/100

+0.2
Rank

#2 /19

Financial and insurance services

68.3/100

+0.7
Rank

#3 /19

Professional, scientific and technical services

67.0/100

-0.1

Check out the industry leaderboard to see how your industry rates, and the biggest changes over the last year.

See the industry leaderboard
Read industry leaderboard later (new tab)

Read the full profile for your industry:

Accommodation and food services
Manufacturing
Administration and Support Services
Mining
Agriculture, forestry and fishing
Professional, Scientific and Technical Services
Arts and recreation services
Public Administration and Safety
Construction
Rental Hiring and Real Estate Services
Education and Training
Retail trade
Electricity, gas, water and waste services
Transport, Postal and Warehousing
Financial and insurance services
Wholesale trade
Health Care and Social Assistance
Other Services
Information media and telecommunications
Workplace Profiles

Location profile

The challenges workplaces faced in the last year varied dramatically based on the public health restrictions imposed by individual states and territories. Select the location where your workplace is based to explore the difficulties faced by other workplaces in your region, and how they have adapted over time.

Ranked

#1

of all states and territories in Australia

Overall performance in 2021

Workplaces in New South Wales are closer to thriving than anywhere else in Australia, up 0.8 points to an overall thriving workplace score of 66.5 out of 100. This is the state’s best result, with Sydney workplaces ahead of those in regional areas (66.8 vs 65.6 respectively).

Success stories

All of the domains improved, led by strong gains in policy (+1.5 points to 64.0) and capability (+1.2 points to 66.6). Connectedness remained the best performing domain, recording an index score above 70 for the first time (70.2).

Compared to 2020, workplaces are using the skills of their workforce more effectively, and providing better access to mental health education and team resources. Remote working skills have improved dramatically during this time, with leaders increasingly trusting and communicating with remote teams.

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Main challenges

Leaders have found several areas more challenging compared to 2020, particularly promoting good mental health practices and providing constructive feedback. They are less accessible than they were last year, and fewer are acting as champions for their teams.

There is also less trust and care for each other in workplaces compared to the previous year, along with a culture shift where fewer people want to stay with their workplace long-term.

People employed in the Information Media and Telecommunications industry experienced the most change, with 4 in 5 workers impacted.
Large-scale implementation of new technology impacted nearly 1 in 4 workers (24.0%), particularly those working in organisations with at least 200 employees and/or based in New South Wales or Victoria. Workplaces in these two states, which were in lockdown for the majority of the research period, also led the way in switching delivery channels, with 1 in 10 workers impacted.

Ranked

#2

of all states and territories in Australia

Overall performance in 2021

Despite multiple lockdowns and shutdowns, Victorian workplaces are actually a little closer to thriving than the year before. A minor increase (up 0.2 points) led to an overall thriving workplace score of 66.0 out of 100; the state’s best result and reflected equally across Melbourne and regional Victoria.

Success stories

Only two of the domains improved: policy (+1.3 points to 63.3) and capability (+1.0 points to 66.3). Compared to 2020, workplaces have improved their policies preventing bullying and harassment, and teams are being better resourced and their talents used more effectively. Access to mental health education has also improved, with more workers having the skills to support each other’s wellbeing. Leaders’ skills in managing people who are working remotely have developed dramatically, with improved levels of trust and communication with their teams.

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Main challenges

Connectedness held onto the top spot despite a minor decline to 70.1 (-0.2 points), with a similar change in culture. However, leadership fell by 1.0 points to 64.0 due to substantially fewer leaders promoting good mental health practices and providing constructive feedback. Leaders are also becoming less accessible as the pandemic continues, and fewer leaders are creating the sense of cohesion that work teams need.

Workplaces are facing reduced teamwork and resilience in the face of challenges, with less effort being made to help people find meaning in their daily tasks. Unsurprisingly, workers are becoming less engaged with their work, and there’s a distinct cultural shift away from staying at their workplace for as long as possible.

People employed in the Information Media and Telecommunications industry experienced the most change, with 4 in 5 workers impacted.
Large-scale implementation of new technology impacted nearly 1 in 4 workers (24.0%), particularly those working in organisations with at least 200 employees and/or based in New South Wales or Victoria. Workplaces in these two states, which were in lockdown for the majority of the research period, also led the way in switching delivery channels, with 1 in 10 workers impacted.

Ranked

#3

of all states and territories in Australia

Overall performance in 2021

Workplaces in South Australia are closer to thriving than the year before, with a moderate increase (0.4 points) to record an overall thriving workplace score of 65.3 out of 100. This is the state’s best performance to date, with regional workplaces ahead of those in Adelaide (66.0 vs 65.2 respectively).

Success stories

The standout improvement was in the policy domain (up 1.8 points to 62.3), with capability also on the rise (+0.8 points to 65.3). Substantially more workers have access to mental health education and confidential support services, and reported that their workplace had a good mental health policy that can be seen in action.

Workers are now far more comfortable speaking up about issues affecting their job, and are increasingly getting the resources they need to do their jobs well. Remote working skills have improved dramatically during this time too, with leaders trusting and communicating more effectively with remote teams.

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Main challenges

Fewer leaders are providing constructive feedback to their teams or rewarding good work, and there’s less focus on creating a sense of team cohesion. At the same time, workplace culture has been affected, with lower motivation and workers less committed to staying with their current workplace long-term.

People employed in the Information Media and Telecommunications industry experienced the most change, with 4 in 5 workers impacted.
Large-scale implementation of new technology impacted nearly 1 in 4 workers (24.0%), particularly those working in organisations with at least 200 employees and/or based in New South Wales or Victoria. Workplaces in these two states, which were in lockdown for the majority of the research period, also led the way in switching delivery channels, with 1 in 10 workers impacted.

Ranked

#4

of all states and territories in Australia

Overall performance in 2021

Queensland workplaces improved more dramatically than any of the other large states, recording an overall thriving workplace score of 64.9 (up 1.5 points). This new high score for the state is even higher in regional workplaces (65.7) than in Brisbane (64.5), noting that regional workplaces include those in the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Townsville and Cairns, to name a few.

Success stories

All of the domains improved, led by particularly strong gains in policy (up 2.4 points to 61.9) and capability (+2.0 points to 65.4). Connectedness remained the best performing domain with a score of 69.0 (+0.9 points). Compared to 2020, workers have far better access to mental health education, are better equipped to do their jobs well, and are much more engaged with their work. They feel more positive about where they work and are increasingly committed to their teams. Unsurprisingly, Queensland workers are going against the national trend and increasing numbers are planning to stay with their workplace long-term.

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Main challenges

Leaders have found numerous areas more challenging in the last year, particularly acting as champions for their teams and being accessible. There has also been a decline in leaders role modelling workplace values and encouraging good mental health practices.

People employed in the Information Media and Telecommunications industry experienced the most change, with 4 in 5 workers impacted.
Large-scale implementation of new technology impacted nearly 1 in 4 workers (24.0%), particularly those working in organisations with at least 200 employees and/or based in New South Wales or Victoria. Workplaces in these two states, which were in lockdown for the majority of the research period, also led the way in switching delivery channels, with 1 in 10 workers impacted.

Ranked

#5

of all states and territories in Australia

Overall performance in 2021

Workplaces in Tasmania lost ground following strong gains in 2020, recording an overall thriving workplace score of 64.8 out of 100 (down 2.0 points). While all of the domains declined, they are still well ahead of 2019’s results at 62.0 points or higher. Connectedness remained the strongest performer at 69.2 but was one of the most challenging areas for Tasmanian workplaces, along with culture and capability.

* Due to the smaller sample sizes in less populated areas of Australia, less detailed information is available for workplaces in these locations.

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People employed in the Information Media and Telecommunications industry experienced the most change, with 4 in 5 workers impacted.
Large-scale implementation of new technology impacted nearly 1 in 4 workers (24.0%), particularly those working in organisations with at least 200 employees and/or based in New South Wales or Victoria. Workplaces in these two states, which were in lockdown for the majority of the research period, also led the way in switching delivery channels, with 1 in 10 workers impacted.

Ranked

#6

of all states and territories in Australia

Overall performance in 2021

Workplaces in Australian Capital Territory are closer to thriving this year, recording an overall thriving workplace score of 64.5 out of 100 (up 2.9 points). This is the territory’s best ever result, and while every domain improved the strongest performers were policy (+4.4 points), connectedness (+3.9 points) and culture (+3.0 points).

* Due to the smaller sample sizes in less populated areas of Australia, less detailed information is available for workplaces in these locations.

People employed in the Information Media and Telecommunications industry experienced the most change, with 4 in 5 workers impacted.
Large-scale implementation of new technology impacted nearly 1 in 4 workers (24.0%), particularly those working in organisations with at least 200 employees and/or based in New South Wales or Victoria. Workplaces in these two states, which were in lockdown for the majority of the research period, also led the way in switching delivery channels, with 1 in 10 workers impacted.

Ranked

#7

of all states and territories in Australia

Overall performance in 2021

Workplaces in Western Australia remained fairly steady with an overall thriving workplace score of 64.4 out of 100. Regional workplaces are closer to thriving than those in Perth (65.4 and 64.2 respectively).

Success stories

Despite little change at the overall level, improvements were made in culture (up 1.1 points to 65.1) and capability (+0.6 points to 65.2). Substantially more workers have access to mental health education and are far more comfortable speaking up about issues affecting their job. Workers are much more motivated and engaged with their work, and increasing numbers would be happy to stay with their workplace long-term.

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Main challenges

Leaders have found several areas more challenging compared to 2020, particularly promoting good mental health practices and creating a sense of team cohesion. At the same time, the sense of being part of a team and a more broadly supportive community has declined. Leaders have also reduced their constructive feedback and are providing fewer professional development opportunities to workers.

People employed in the Information Media and Telecommunications industry experienced the most change, with 4 in 5 workers impacted.
Large-scale implementation of new technology impacted nearly 1 in 4 workers (24.0%), particularly those working in organisations with at least 200 employees and/or based in New South Wales or Victoria. Workplaces in these two states, which were in lockdown for the majority of the research period, also led the way in switching delivery channels, with 1 in 10 workers impacted.

Ranked

#8

of all states and territories in Australia

Overall performance in 2021

Northern Territory workplaces are further from thriving than anywhere else in Australia, recording an overall thriving workplace score of 60.0 out of 100 (down 4.8 points). All of the domains declined except for capability, highlighting that workplaces are getting better at equipping Territorians to do their jobs well in a mentally healthy environment. Leadership experienced the strongest backslide, with leaders facing similar challenges as the rest of Australia in maintaining the strong gains experienced in 2020.

* Due to the smaller sample sizes in less populated areas of Australia, less detailed information is available for workplaces in these locations.

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People employed in the Information Media and Telecommunications industry experienced the most change, with 4 in 5 workers impacted.
Large-scale implementation of new technology impacted nearly 1 in 4 workers (24.0%), particularly those working in organisations with at least 200 employees and/or based in New South Wales or Victoria. Workplaces in these two states, which were in lockdown for the majority of the research period, also led the way in switching delivery channels, with 1 in 10 workers impacted.

Workplace Profiles

Workplace size profile

Workplace mental health tends to vary substantially based on size, with small workplaces historically outperforming large workplaces in every domain except policy as large organisations generally have dedicated resources for policy development. However, the upheaval of a global pandemic has also shifted some of these previous trends. Select the number of people in your workplace (within Australia) to see how it compares to others of a similar size and read about key areas to focus on.

Mid-sized workplaces (200-999 workers within Australia) have adapted to the challenges of an extended pandemic better than workplaces of any other size. Recording an overall thriving workplace score of 67.3 out of 100, this year’s increase of 2.3 points is well ahead of other workplaces and positions mid-sized workplaces as the most mentally healthy places to work.

All of the domains improved substantially, led by strong gains in capability (+2.9 points to 67.7) and culture (+2.5 points to 67.4). Connectedness remained the best performing domain, recording an index score above 70 for the first time (+2.2 points to 70.3).

Compared to 2020, workplaces are using the skills of their workforce far more effectively. There has also been a leap forward in providing access to mental health education and team resources, with strong improvement in people’s ability to support colleagues' mental health. Remote working skills have also improved dramatically during this time, with leaders increasingly trusting and communicating with remote teams. Unsurprisingly, people are feeling more engaged with their work and there’s a growing sense that people are looking to stay with their workplace in the long-term.

While every indicator of workplace mental health improved, these workplaces would benefit from leaders providing more constructive feedback, recognising good work and role modelling their workplace values. Building a stronger sense of team identity and commitment would also help build on their successes so far.

People employed in the Information Media and Telecommunications industry experienced the most change, with 4 in 5 workers impacted.
Large-scale implementation of new technology impacted nearly 1 in 4 workers (24.0%), particularly those working in organisations with at least 200 employees and/or based in New South Wales or Victoria. Workplaces in these two states, which were in lockdown for the majority of the research period, also led the way in switching delivery channels, with 1 in 10 workers impacted.

Workplaces with less than 200 workers, that were able to continue operating, also adapted well to the challenges of 2021. Micro workplaces (2-19 workers) are slightly ahead with an overall thriving workplace score of 66.6 (up 0.6 points) with small workplaces (20 -199 workers) up 0.8 points to 65.9. Both represent new high scores for workplaces of that size, and were supported most strongly by gains in policy, capability and culture. Connectedness remained a strength in these smaller workplaces, especially micro workplaces with a higher score than any of the larger workplaces (72.7).

These smaller workplaces showed the strongest gains in communicating with remote colleagues, and both improved their approach to team resourcing and preventing bullying and harassment. However, some of their other strengths weren’t shared, with people in small workplaces feeling more comfortable raising issues about their role while people in micro workplaces felt less comfortable. Similarly, small workplaces are using their workers' talents more effectively, while workers in micro workplaces have declined in this area. On the flipside, micro workplaces now have better mental health-related policies to help people return to work than many larger organisations.

Most of the indicators of mentally healthy leadership went backward, with micro workplaces losing more of the ground gained in 2020 than small workplaces. These workplaces would benefit from focusing on promoting good mental health practices, role modelling workplace values, and being more accessible and willing to provide constructive feedback. Acting as champions for their teams is also important, with leaders needing to rebuild a sense of team cohesion and trust. Micro workplaces specifically need to concentrate on providing more professional development opportunities in the future as this has really dropped off over the last year. Addressing these issues will be critical as there is a reduced sense that people in smaller workplaces want to stay there long-term.

People employed in the Information Media and Telecommunications industry experienced the most change, with 4 in 5 workers impacted.
Large-scale implementation of new technology impacted nearly 1 in 4 workers (24.0%), particularly those working in organisations with at least 200 employees and/or based in New South Wales or Victoria. Workplaces in these two states, which were in lockdown for the majority of the research period, also led the way in switching delivery channels, with 1 in 10 workers impacted.

While workplaces with at least 1,000 workers were better equipped financially to weather the changes brought on by the pandemic, it has come at a cost to the mental health of their workforce. Large workplaces (1,000-4,999 workers) recorded the largest decline of 1.7 points for an overall thriving workplace score of 64.5 as they lost ground in all five domains. Huge workplaces (5000+ workers) remained fairly steady at 64.3 (-0.1 points) due to small gains in policy and capability mostly offsetting the declines.

Both workplace groups found leadership and connectedness more challenging this year. These workplaces were slower to embrace remote working arrangements, with fewer leaders communicating effectively with remote workers compared to leaders in smaller workplaces. This ties in with leaders being less accessible this year, and a reduced focus on championing their work teams.

Large workplaces are particularly struggling to maintain healthy connections, with a downturn in care and respect in the workplace, and the ability to overcome difficult circumstances as a team. In contrast, huge workplaces are primarily struggling with creating a sense of shared purpose.

There was a surprising downturn in several policy indicators this year, given larger workplaces tend to perform better in this domain. Fewer workers are seeing mental health policies in action, with visibility of policies around transparent decision making also reduced. Compared to 2020, people in large workplaces are far less convinced that they have good policies relating to workplace mental health and returning to work after taking time off for mental health reasons.

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Despite improved access to mental health education and confidential support services, there’s been a worrying cultural shift away from openly discussing issues that affect mental health. This is particularly concerning since the workplace culture of larger organisations is now far less mentally healthy than in smaller organisations and open discussion is vital to stemming the decline.

People employed in the Information Media and Telecommunications industry experienced the most change, with 4 in 5 workers impacted.
Large-scale implementation of new technology impacted nearly 1 in 4 workers (24.0%), particularly those working in organisations with at least 200 employees and/or based in New South Wales or Victoria. Workplaces in these two states, which were in lockdown for the majority of the research period, also led the way in switching delivery channels, with 1 in 10 workers impacted.

Workplace Profiles

How does your workplace compare?

Find out if your workplace is thriving with the Thriving Workplace Index

The Thriving Workplace Index (the Index) is a leading workplace benchmarking tool that gives you a snapshot of your workplace’s current state of mental health and wellbeing based on employees’ experiences.

Benchmarks

Your workplace’s scores will be benchmarked against the national and industry benchmarks from the 2021 Indicators of a Thriving Workplace survey, so you can see how your workplace compares with others.

How does the Index work?

Your employees complete a short online survey (8-10 minutes). Soon after the survey results are in, you will receive an interactive Power BI dashboard and PDF report outlining key insights, opportunities and tailored recommendations including practical actions that will help your workplace thrive.

Learn more about the Thriving Workplace Index

Thriving Workplace Index Home

Hot Topics

Workplaces across the nation have faced a wide variety of challenges in 2021, but there are a few burning questions that most workplaces want answered. The following hot topics focus on the challenges faced by workplaces more than a year after COVID-19 emerged in Australia, highlight what’s working well, and include practical tips to help your workplace adapt and thrive in the future.

Hot Topics
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Workplace discrimination

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Addressing workplace discrimination is more important than ever.

When workplace discrimination occurs, it can create a toxic environment for those impacted. COVID-19, Me Too, and Black Lives Matter have magnified conversations about our protections, obligations and responsibilities with regards to workplace discrimination.

We asked if, and how, workers experienced discrimination in the past 12 months. Here’s what workers had to say about their experiences.

Discrimination is still experienced by many workers.

More than 1 in 8 workers (12.4%) experienced workplace discrimination in the last 12 months. These workers experienced workplace discrimination relating to things like their gender (30.6%), age (34.2%), race (29.1%), religion (13.2%), or family responsibilities (21.6%). 1 in 5 workers (21.8%) experienced discrimination based on mental ill-health.

Discrimination is still experienced by many workers.

I feel because I have no children, I am expected to do the work and hours that people with children do not do.”

More than 1 in 8 workers (12.4%) experienced workplace discrimination in the last 12 months. These workers experienced workplace discrimination relating to things like their gender (30.6%), age (34.2%), race (29.1%), religion (13.2%), or family responsibilities (21.6%). 1 in 5 workers (21.8%) experienced discrimination based on mental ill-health.

My workplace is racist, gender bias and bullying exists.”

They do not believe in people working from home. They don’t even allow women to have part time hours when they have young children.”

I am disappointed by my employer because although they have these mental health policies in place, it more talk than walk. They never genuinely and fully implement anything.”

The stigma around mental health is improving, but there is a long way to go

For workers who experienced a mental health condition in the past 12 months and experienced discrimination, almost a third reported that the discrimination they experienced was based on mental ill-health.

Even though workplaces are taking mental health and wellbeing more seriously, a lot of action is still directed at offering limited support through an Employee Assistance Program or similar when someone becomes unwell. Even with such programs in place, stigma is still a problem for Australian workforces.

The stigma around mental health is improving, but there is a long way to go

My workplace makes people feel very judged and like they are “in trouble” for having mental health problems. It should be treated more similarly to when you are physically ill.”

For workers who experienced a mental health condition in the past 12 months and experienced discrimination, almost a third reported that the discrimination they experienced was based on mental ill-health.

Even though workplaces are taking mental health and wellbeing more seriously, a lot of action is still directed at offering limited support through an Employee Assistance Program or similar when someone becomes unwell. Even with such programs in place, stigma is still a problem for Australian workforces.

I think there is still such stigma around mental health, it’s a hard subject to discuss. I know there have been times in the last 12 months I have felt mentally very unwell and needed time away from work but felt obliged to come up with physical symptoms (excuses) in order to take much needed time away. And typically, still worked from home when taking personal leave.”

I think there is still a large stigma around mental health. In the past, I have had to take a day off due to mental health reasons and was not able to bring myself to make a phone call. So, I sent an email directly to my manager, with ample notice that I would be off for one day due to mental health reasons. And I was pulled into their office and told that next time I need to phone and “explain myself.”

It is very difficult to report mental health issues when the whole workforce or system pays deaf ears to the concerns of workers from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Fear of job loss leads to under reporting

If the high amount of discrimination experienced by workers comes as a surprise, it’s because it can often be under reported by workers.

Once you speak up about a problem you are an issue.”

I’m not comfortable talking about it to my manager. Since I’m new in the role, they may fire me if I make such requests. They have done that in the past to another employee.”

As COVID-19 saw radical changes and uncertainty across our workplaces, job losses were a frightening reality for many. When people fear for their jobs, they’ll put up with a lot.

[My organisation is] not interested in mental health of workers – seen as should just be grateful for a job.”

Younger working adults – those aged 18 to 35 – experienced the most discrimination

Starting your career journey is difficult enough. Navigating workplaces while working from home, trying to build relationships over a video screen, and organisational change and uncertainty can make the beginning of your career even more challenging.

Younger staff who do a huge amount of work for the company including overtime, don’t get paid well and are treated unfairly.”

COVID-19 created a perfect storm of risk. Roles like essential retail, food delivery, and supermarkets are often held by young people as they juggle study and other activities. Typically, these roles are insecure, casualised, or part of the gig economy.

In 2021, 28.3% of young workers experienced workplace discrimination, with nearly half of those (47.8%) experiencing discrimination because of mental ill-health.

Workplace discrimination is rife across roles

It’s easy to assume workplace discrimination only happens to non-managers, or junior managers. But, 1 in 6 business owners (15.2%) experienced discrimination in the workplace. This makes it the most common role type to experience discrimination. The pressures of 2021 on business owners cannot be underestimated. Discrimination was most commonly based on gender (33.2%), physical ill-health (32.7%), sexual orientation (31.3%), and mental ill-health (25.3%).

My workplace likes to make out the company has great working conditions, [but] if I was female or culturally diverse, I may not be in the position I am now.”

Workplace discrimination is rife across roles

It’s easy to assume workplace discrimination only happens to non-managers, or junior managers. But, 1 in 6 business owners (15.2%) experienced discrimination in the workplace. This makes it the most common role type to experience discrimination. The pressures of 2021 on business owners cannot be underestimated. Discrimination was most commonly based on gender (33.2%), physical ill-health (32.7%), sexual orientation (31.3%), and mental ill-health (25.3%).

1 in 7 senior managers (14.1%) also experienced discrimination. This was most commonly based on age (33.0%), gender (32.1%), personal presentation (31.2%) and family caregiving responsibilities (26.3%).

Working in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment while trying to retain workers, navigate restrictions and juggle their own personal lives is no mean feat. Creating a thriving workplace starts at the top, but it doesn’t stop at the top. Respect, support and kindness must flow upwards through an organisation as well as downwards.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples experience discrimination more than twice as much

First Nations peoples continue to be discriminated against in the workplace, with 27.1% experiencing discrimination. In the last twelve months, we’ve seen a global reckoning with racial equity, with the Black Lives Matter movement progressing discussion and action in Australia, as well as around the world.

I identify as Aboriginal and received racist discrimination during NAIDOC Week recently. I have reported this outside my [store] location and it looks like I am finally receiving some sort of support and respect.”

Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians experience discrimination more than twice as much

Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians continue to be discriminated against in the workplace, with 27.1% experiencing discrimination. In the last twelve months, we’ve seen a global reckoning with racial equity, with the Black Lives Matter movement progressing discussion and action in Australia, as well as around the world.

While support is improving, making sure the experiences, skills and knowledge of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians are central to our workplace culture is essential to furthering a thriving workplace.

What you can do

Whether it’s working out how to best promote inclusion for remote workforces, or how to make our workplaces safer for those who are immunocompromised, creating a positive workplace culture free from bullying, harassment and discrimination has never been more important.

A thriving workplace is one where everyone can do their best work. Harnessing unique strengths and capabilities are far more likely to result in organisational success than stereotypes and echo chambers.

What workers suggest:

Have an open, honest and non-judgemental conversation to genuinely establish what the person needs support with. The biggest problem – as I see it – is trying to apply solutions with broad brush strokes, without taking the time to realise that every person is an individual, with unique stressors and unique needs.”

Examine the conditions that created or exacerbated the mental ill-health and make meaningful changes to prevent recurrence.”

Don’t make assumptions about my health or about me as an employee without taking the time to talk to me and by treating me as an equal.”

Appreciate my life skills more – as a mature worker I don’t feel valued.”

Understand that my autoimmune disease does not stop me being a good employee.”

Actions you can take:

Self-reflect

It’s human nature to have biases, many of which are unconscious. What assumptions or stereotypes might influence your actions? Becoming more aware of our biases can help us identify where discrimination might show up.

Sometimes our biases are so entrenched, we don’t even notice them. Take for example the manager who loves being in the office – loves the energy and environment of everyone being in the same space. They might be more inclined to make everyone return to the office, as it best suits their personal preference.

Be careful to avoid making assumptions about how individuals should behave, act, or look. Some workplace norms can contribute to indirect discrimination. Think preferencing a male without caring responsibilities over a single female with a family for a senior management role. Or assuming that someone in traditional cultural dress isn’t as professional as someone in a suit and tie.

Our diverse strengths, knowledge and experiences are our superpowers. Rather than thinking how you can make people work or be more like you, ask, how can I understand my people’s strengths and preferences to help us thrive together?

Have robust policies and procedures in place

Clear policies and procedures around mental health and wellbeing, bullying, harassment and discrimination that are seen in action by employees bring significant benefits for both workers and organisations. Share your policies and procedures regularly and broadly with workers.

Make sure your organisational policies and procedures are suitable for discrimination that might occur not only between colleagues, but also discrimination or inappropriate behaviour from clients, customers, executive team members, board directors and other stakeholders. Discrimination and inappropriate behaviour are never acceptable, no matter the person’s role or status.

Try asking workers if they perceive the policies to be applied fairly and whether they understand how decisions are made. If not, consider hosting lunch and learn sessions, or working through a de-identified or invented case study to help people understand how policies and procedures come to life, and what they can do if they experience workplace discrimination.

Learn More

Understand your protections, obligations and responsibilities with regards to workplace discrimination. There’s lots of information to help you get started. Visit:

Australian Human Rights Commission: Workplace Discrimination, Harrassment and Bullying
Fair Work Ombudsman: Workplace discrimination

If you’re a small business owner, check out NewAccess by Beyond Blue, a free and confidential mental health coaching program, designed to give small business owners, including sole traders support.

Beyond Blue: New Access
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Supporting our most vulnerable workers

Most workplaces will have vulnerable workers within their workforce. They’re often unable to protect themselves against harm or exploitation, so workplaces have additional responsibilities to support them. Vulnerable workers can include, for example, young workers just starting out, casual workers, workers with long-term mental or physical health conditions, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians and workers who migrated from non-English speaking countries.

Not all people within these groups need additional support, but it’s important that workplaces put strategies in place to support those that do.

Vulnerable workers with existing health conditions more commonly face other challenges

More than a quarter (27.7%) of workers reported a mental, physical or other health condition that has limited their daily activities and/or paid work options for at least six months. Nearly a third (29.6%) of those workers say that their mental health has declined compared to a year ago, with many reporting feeling isolated (27.3%) and suffering from work-related insomnia (21.4%) during the last 12 months.

High proportions of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians (60.9%), workers aged 18 – 24 years (66.4%) and casual workers (58.2%) experienced mental health conditions over the same period, well above the national average of 53.5%.

Graph showing the impact of workplace on mental health condition

Table – Proportion of vulnerable workers who reported experiencing a mental health condition, isolation or work-related insomnia in the last 12 months.

Vulnerable workers typically also faced more challenges than other workers that could impact their mental health including:

  • Lack of flexible work arrangements
  • Lack of appropriate tools and resources
  • Violence from people in and out of the workplace (e.g., colleagues or customers)
  • Sexual harassment and assault
  • Discrimination at work
  • Inadequate internet connection
  • Changing job requirements, and
  • Household financial pressures.

Managers and colleagues can positively impact the mental health of vulnerable workers

The good news is that across the board, many vulnerable workers reported that their managers and colleagues had a positive impact on their mental health. Managers were particularly supportive of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians with the majority (53.3%) of those workers reporting their manager improved their mental health.

Vulnerable workers reported that colleagues had an even wider positive impact on their mental health than managers. This was particularly true for workers with a mental, physical, or other health condition, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians, and workers aged 18 – 24.

Graph showing the impact of workplace on mental health condition

Table – Percentage of those who report their manager and colleagues either improved or worsened their mental health

Supporting vulnerable workers is all about recognition, autonomy and fairness

It’s great to see that managers and colleagues can have such a positive impact on vulnerable workers, but what exactly are they doing? Here’s what vulnerable workers said made them feel valued and it’s all about recognising them for good work, giving them autonomy, and showing empathy and fairness.

Respect me and my opinions.”

Show appreciation.”

Respect everyone and be fair to everyone, not make different rules for different people.”

Just respect me and be nicer to me.”

Trust me to do the job because of my experience and knowledge.”

Encourage me and help me when I ask.”

Allow me to do what I am good at.”

Make me [feel] included.”

Acknowledge and reward my extra efforts and strengths.”

Be interested in me and understand my situation.”

Appreciate [people’s work] and have a high understanding when applying empathy and sympathy to a certain area, to ensure they aren’t judging an employee’s situation.”

Treat me fairly and understand my autoimmune disease does not stop me being a good employee.”

What you can do

The good news is that across the board, many vulnerable workers reported that their managers and colleagues had a positive impact on their mental health. Managers were particularly supportive of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians with the majority (53.3%) of those workers reporting their manager improved their mental health.

1.

Train leaders and managers

Creating a culture of psychological safely where workers feel they can raise concerns and be supported is vital. Equipping leaders with the knowledge to recognise workplace risk and protective factors, and giving them the skills and confidence to have care conversations with their team, is an important first step in creating psychological safety for all workers.

Check out SuperFriend’s course for leaders.

Workplace Mental Health Essentials for Leaders: SuperFriend

Watch Amy Edmondson’s TED Talk on Building a psychologically safe workplace.

Building a psychologically safe workplace: TED

2.

Build policies that protect all workers

Policies play a really important role in making sure vulnerable workers have a safe and supportive workplace. Review the policies you already have to check that vulnerable worker groups are protected from things like discrimination.

If you’re not sure if your policies cover everything they need to, consider SuperFriend’s Workplace Wellbeing Audit:

Workplace Wellbeing Audit: SuperFriend

3.

Build connections

It’s important to ensure that vulnerable workers feel connected with the rest of the team and are recognised for their efforts. Create an inclusive, connected environment to help protect vulnerable workers from psychosocial risk factors that can impact mental health.

Read Mark Leopold’s article on compassion, community and connection.

Compassion, Community and Connection: SuperFriend

Check out the resources on SuperFriend’s connection hub.

Connection: SuperFriend

Read more about how to recognise and reward workers.

Work-related stress – low recognition and reward: WorkSafe

Read SuperFriend’s blog on diversity and inclusion.

Ensure your organisation is inclusive, fair and representative of the real world: SuperFriend

4.

Upskill staff

Providing foundational mental health and wellbeing training to staff is a great way to empower workers with the skills and knowledge to support the mental health of themselves and others. Check out SuperFriend’s free resources and training course below:

Looking After You: SuperFriend
Peer Support Booklet: SuperFriend
Workplace Mental Health Essentials For All Staff Course: SuperFriend

Just like physical health is linked to mental health, so too is financial wellbeing linked to psychological wellbeing. Providing regular financial education sessions to staff is beneficial not just for workers who are under financial strain, but for all employees as part of their journey to wellbeing. Many superannuation funds offer financial education sessions to their member organisations, so reach out to your superannuation fund to learn more.

5.

The bigger picture

SuperFriend advocates at the policy level to ensure all Australians are mentally healthy and thriving at work, including vulnerable workers or people who are not currently well protected by current employment legislation (such as gig workers).

You can read more about SuperFriend’s advocacy work here.

Advocacy: SuperFriend
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