Jacobs puts the spotlight on supporting mental health in the workforce

Posted 6 April 2018

Mental illness is a human resources issue that impacts on the economic and managerial well-being of businesses Australia wide, but one water organisation has stepped up to help put an end to the negative stigma surrounding depression and anxiety. 

Jacobs’ has joined Vital Conversations’ Biggest Mental Health Check-in, a program designed to uncover mental health issues before they become a problem for personnel and help guide staff towards help.

Jacobs Vice-President and Executive Director of Strategic Growth Ross Jones said joining the program was an imperative due to the heightened risk of mental illness present in professional services firms, full of high-performing individuals. 

“For the past 10 years, Jacobs has been looking at mental illness in our workforce. We spend a lot of money on people’s physical safety, which is a good thing,” Jones said.  

“But we found that the incident that takes people the longest time to get back to work when reported is usually depression or anxiety, but we hadn’t been giving it the attention that it deserves.”

Jones said being part of the program has been hugely beneficial for Jacobs, as well as offering up a lot of “eye-opening” information for the company about how to go about changing the culture around mental illness. 

The program involves a 12-minute confidential survey, with participants receiving an extensive, 16-page report reviewed by a Vital Conversations psychologist. Furthermore, each participant is guided towards help if needed. 

“The survey looks at a number of different scales, including depression, anxiety and stress. They also look at risk factors, including lack of sleep, resilience, awareness and emotional intelligence,” Jones said. 

“They also assess key areas that people don't consider as much, such as the level of perfectionism in individuals, which is a high-risk factor, their ability to manage time and coping strategies.

“About 25% of our cohort were found to be experiencing moderate-to-high levels of clinical depression or anxiety. About 2% of participants were already being treated by a medical practitioner. Of the 25% of staff, 77% were unaware that they had such a condition.”

Jones said the program aids in opening up conversations around mental health in the workplace, which in turn helps to change the mindset around how it should be managed. 

“The program was developed to add some objectivity. When you are looking at mental illness, a lot of people find it very difficult to go to a doctor or psychologist to ask for help with what is going on in their lives,” he said. 

“Rather than being surprised when someone experiences a mental illness, we have got to shift the focus. Just like someone might suffer from a physical illness, our staff are going to suffer from mental illness and we need to be prepared to help them in the same way.”

Due to the success of being involved, Jones recommended all water-related businesses get involved, with the return on investment far outweighing the benefits delivered. 

“All water-related businesses should get on board. You’ll get the best results if you have the leadership to commit to the fact that this is an issue for your staff base. It needs to be a cultural shift in an organisation to develop a working environment where people feel safe enough to ask for help.”

The Australian Water Association's Channeling Change Program aims to profile organisations working towards greater inclusion. Find out more about the program here.

You can also learn more about what the water industry is doing to ensure mentally healthy workplaces during the Industry Safety & Wellbeing Program at Ozwater'18.