Employers must act on mental health, says Atlassian CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes

Atlassian’s Mike Cannon-Brookes: ‘I wouldn’t say that at Atlassian we’ve got it figured out, but we’re at least very open and we have all sorts of programs and things internally and we try to get better all the time.’ Picture: John Feder
Atlassian’s Mike Cannon-Brookes: ‘I wouldn’t say that at Atlassian we’ve got it figured out, but we’re at least very open and we have all sorts of programs and things internally and we try to get better all the time.’ Picture: John Feder

Mental health has skyrocketed to the top of the list of concerns for workers, and two in three employees would consider turning down a job promotion in order to preserve their mental health, as prolonged lockdowns and heightened stress levels increasingly take their toll on businesses across the nation.

Atlassian’s Return on Action report, conducted by PwC and released on Tuesday, highlighted the growing importance of employers to act on mental health, finding that “mental health and wellness” ranked No.1 for Gen Y and Gen Z workers, and No.2 for Gen X (behind “cost of living”) and No.3 for baby-boomers (behind “cost of healthcare” and “cost of living”).

More than half the 1225 respondents said issues relating to mental health and wellbeing were more important now than 12 months ago.

“As an executive who has no shortage of mental health struggles … I think it probably affects all areas of the business,” Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes said.

“I don’t think employees are saying ‘you have to solve this for me’, but you need to have an awareness, and an openness to talking about these things.

“In the workplace, it’s seen as a weakness for people to say ‘man, I’m not doing so well’. I wouldn’t say that at Atlassian we’ve got it figured out, but we’re at least very open and we have all sorts of programs and things internally and we try to get better all the time.

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“We’re doing things like yoga, encouraging people to take stretch breaks and we had some walks where groups of employees could get on a Zoom meeting on their phone and go for a walk outside and all walk in the forest together as a break from work.”

PwC partner Diane Rutter said it was critical for executives and boardrooms to respond to Australia’s growing mental health crisis.

“Employees, especially Generation Y and Z, are now valuing health and happiness over career progression,” she said. “So businesses need to support them, so they don’t risk losing really valuable employees over time.

“Social action has come out as another theme, where there’s an increasing expectation over time that employers become more vocal on the issues that matter to their employees. Gen Y and Gen Z no longer accept a passive ­approach.”

Businesses should be just as concerned with their social impact as their financial results, 74 per cent of respondents said – highlighting the pressure on businesses to act on issues such as climate change and social issues like racial injustice. Nearly 75 per cent of Gen Z respondents said business will need to play a bigger role in addressing racial injustice and issues like Black Lives Matter over the next five years.

“The workforce wants business leaders to show leadership, to speak out on social and health issues, and not to shy away from them and stay silent.

“Employees are saying ‘we want to work somewhere that has values that match ours (and) we’re willing to leave if they don’t match’. There’s a risk and reward for businesses to show that leadership,” Mr Cannon-Brookes said.

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