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Source: Peninsula Group

Auckland, 20 June 2024 – Employees working for SMEs in Australia and New Zealand aren’t likely to get mental health days in addition to their existing personal leave entitlements any time soon, according to a new survey from HR specialist and employment relations firm Peninsula Employsure: (ref. )

The annual global survey conducted by Peninsula Group in May 2024 across Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Ireland, and Canada, including 468 ANZ businesses, found that despite over a quarter of respondents (31% in Australia and 28% in New Zealand) seeing an increase in sickness absences because of mental health concerns (an increase of 43% from 2023), 77% in Australia and 60% in New Zealand don’t offer mental health days and don’t plan to.

“It’s common for employees to use their sick leave when they’re dealing with mental health issues, making it feel like less of a need for SMEs to have dedicated mental health days, especially if not everyone in the workplace struggles with mental health issues,” said David Price, CEO at Peninsula Employsure.

The findings reveal that although mental health days aren’t popular for many businesses, New Zealander and Canadian employers are more likely to already offer them than Australian, UK and Irish employers, at 21% and 23% percent of respondents, respectively.

Another 16% of respondents in New Zealand and 14% in Canada aim to implement mental health days in the next 12 months.

“Many small businesses don’t have the resources, in terms of both capital and manpower, to offer mental health days on top of sick and annual leave entitlements. Business operating costs and the risks of failure are on an upward trajectory in 2024 for small businesses. Therefore, the focus for many business owners is on survival, maintaining viability and keeping expenses down.”

Many SMEs may not intend to introduce mental health days, but respondents to Peninsula Employsure’s survey detailed other ways they’re addressing mental health concerns in their workplaces.

These include allowing staff to take time out during work hours to see counsellors, short mental health breaks during the day to manage stress, ensuring their teams have regular and open discussions about how they’re feeling and what they can do to support each other, and the introduction of mental health first aiders.

There’s been a 52% increase in the number of Australian respondents providing mental health first aiders in 2024 compared to the 2023 survey. A mental first aider is someone who has received first aid training to support people experiencing or developing a mental health problem.

However, in New Zealand, just 4% of respondents stated that they’d introduced mental health aiders in the last 12 months.

While a sizeable portion of respondents (61% in Australia and 62% in New Zealand) said that staff are speaking more openly about mental health concerns in the workplace, only half (55% in Australia and 50% in New Zealand) are somewhat confident their employees would disclose a mental health issue to them or their line manager.

“The data demonstrates the importance of organisations, regardless of size, having effective mental health strategies in place to foster an environment where people feel supported, valued, and listened to. Workers are under no obligation to disclose if they are struggling with mental health issues, so businesses need to offer alternative pathways for them to seek assistance and address the challenges they encounter,” said Price.

“Good mental health strategies start at the leadership level, with positive impacts trickling down to team members. This involves providing leaders with coaching and resources, empowering them with actionable steps to proactively address and manage mental health in the workplace. Third party providers can support here.”

The survey shows that though there is still progress to be made, SMEs are witnessing improvements in how mental health is being managed in their workforce. Over half of respondents (52% in Australia and 56% in New Zealand) have observed a greater emphasis on employees prioritising work-life balance.

The number of Australian respondents who noticed work-life balance being prioritised more rose by 41% compared to last year’s survey, but interestingly, less UK and Irish respondents noticed this in 2024.

“Employees who have a healthy work-life balance are less stressed, more productive, and more likely to stay in their role and thrive. Employers that don’t protect this balance will see higher turnover and adverse business outcomes as a result,” said Price.


The other businesses under the Peninsula Group umbrella that conducted this survey in 2024 are Peninsula UK, Peninsula Ireland, and Peninsula Canada.

Respondents comprise 327 Australian businesses and 141 New Zealand businesses spanning industries including:

  • Accountancy, banking, or finance
  • Property and construction
  • Wholesale and retail
  • Healthcare
  • Hospitality
  • Information technology
  • Engineering and manufacturing
  • Energy and utilities
  • Leisure, sport, and tourism
  • Business, consulting, and management
  • Public services and administration.

About Peninsula Employsure

Peninsula Employsure is a leading workplace advisory firm for SMEs, advising more than 37,000 clients across Australia and New Zealand on HR, workplace relations and workplace health & safety issues. Its advice line allows businesses to speak with its team of workplace relations specialists, and through onsite visits to their business.