Held on 10 September, R U OK? Day highlights the need for meaningful conversations about mental health. We check in on the engineering community to see some of the initiatives developed by firms to support their employees.
Now in its 12th year, R U OK? Day is a call to action for all Australians to ask important questions about the mental health of the people around us.
This year’s message is ‘There’s more to say after R U OK?,’ which calls on Australians to make an effort to connect and reconnect with people who may be struggling as the world deals with COVID-19, and direct them to resources if they’re not ok.
It’s an important message for the engineering profession, with a recent report from EqualEngineers finding more than one third of engineers (37.2 per cent) describe their mental health as only “fair” or “poor”.
The Masculinity In Engineering survey also reported that more than 61 per cent of engineers said their physical or emotional problems disrupted their normal social activities; 22 per cent had taken time off work as a result of emotional or mental health problems; and 89 per cent of those who felt they had a disability believed it was invisible to others.
Most concerning was the fact that 22.5 per cent of engineers have considered harming themselves or taking their own lives, with men 3.5 times more likely to have had such thoughts.
Asia Pacific CEO of infrastructure firm Cardno Jamie Alonso said that looking after employees’ mental health was as important as taking care of their physical health and safety.
“Prior to the pandemic, we already had a number of formal policies and programs in place to provide the foundation for our employees,” he told create.
“Now, we are offering mental health and wellness webinars and, in particular, care packages for our employees in Victoria who entered a second Stage 4 lockdown.”
Cardno’s mental health programs include diversity and inclusion groups in the workplace, private counselling services for employees, and a domestic and family violence policy that provides dedicated leave and support services.
Alonso said the firm had tried to extend this culture of wellbeing to everyday life under lockdown.
“We’ve had dedicated staff placing calls to employees to ‘check in’ on how they are doing — it doesn’t have to be R U OK? Day to check in and show you care,” he added.
The firm also launched an online portal, ‘My Cardno Village’, where employees around the globe can connect, discuss their challenges and coping mechanisms, share tips on entertaining the family, and do activities such as a stretch class or take a virtual tour of the Great Barrier Reef.
Alonso said these programs were helping to move the needle towards a better culture of mental health.
“A recent survey found that 85 per cent of our employees in Asia Pacific believe that working remotely has unlocked productivity growth and has generally had a positive impact on their engagement and general sense of wellbeing,” he said.
In addition to collating hard data, Alonso said that management sought anecdotal feedback from employees about how they are travelling, and he conducts fortnightly roundtables with different groups of employees across the business.
“For R U OK? Day, we’ll be sharing with employees a mental health self-assessment tool, further webinar programs and also tips and coping mechanisms our very own business leaders use to manage their own mental health day-to-day,” he said.
Put your hand up
Queensland-based firm G&S Engineering is also promoting positive mental health in the workplace, through its ‘#HANDSUP – end the stigma, change lives’ campaign.
Launched in 2015, the campaign includes a video and toolkit that provide tips, support and information for employees to take care of their own mental health, and to support others.
At the time of the launch, then G&S Engineering Manager of Human Resources Hayley Lee said the firm recognised it needed to put as much effort into promoting employees’ positive mental health as it did with physical health.
“We had noticed the increase in individuals who are experiencing mental health conditions, particularly in our industry,” she said.
“Managers and supervisors needed to provide support and advice to their teams, but often didn’t know how to handle situations that involve mental health issues.
“Our vision of a mentally healthy workplace is one that protects and promotes mental health and empowers people to seek help. Through the #HANDSUP initiative, we aim to break down the stigma associated with mental illness and create a workplace where it is ok to speak up about mental illness and seek help, without judgement.”
Hydro Tasmania also takes a proactive approach to mental health through its ‘A New Mindset’ program. Developed in collaboration with OzHelp Tasmania, the program launched in 2015 and includes training, information and support.
The organisation was recognised at the 2019 National Suicide Prevention Australia Conference for this work, taking out the Workplace Life Award.
Hydro Tasmania CEO Steve Davy said while the firm had always had a healthy workplace program, the focus was generally on physical health.
“Workplace surveys and other feedback identified mental health as an increasing concern across the organisation, particularly in relation to stress, anxiety and depression,” he said.
“In response, Hydro Tasmania expanded its existing healthy workplace program to increase the focus on mental health and wellbeing, reduce stigma, encourage early intervention and support and increase suicide awareness.”
The program has been rolled out across the entire business, including at remote sites. More than 70 per cent of staff members have also completed a suicide-prevention awareness training session called Looking After Your Mates.