Tackling mental wellness on the job site.

Ten years ago, if you heard a couple of blokes on a job site discussing ‘wellness’, you’d probably have wondered what was in their thermos. But in recent times ‘wellness’ and discussions around it, are becoming synonymous with a healthy workplace.

The term ‘wellness’ relates to both mental and physical health so it covers a broader range of issues than traditional occupational health and safety. And many businesses and industry organisations are introducing programs to ensure their employees or members are tracking alright in every aspect of their lives.

Wellness in construction.

A great example of this is The National Electrical and Communications Association (NECA) and the ‘wellness portal’ on their website. NECA decided to look into this area because they felt the electrical industry was lagging behind in this space compared to other industry groups. The construction industry, for example, has organisations such as R U OK? which have already made significant headway in the space.

“We engaged a consultant to look at some strategies around how NECA can best portray this area for the electrical trades and bring them up to speed, similar to the other trades,” says NECA HSEQ manager Phyllis Edwards.

“Very little was being done looking into mental health issues such as suicides and depression. From an economical perspective, the sick days alone are causing significant impact on costs and productivity.”

While efforts in the construction industry look at issues such as fly-in, fly-out and remote working conditions, NECA is focussing on a range of issues more relevant to the electrical trades – from those faced by young apprentices who are working in the trade for the first time, right through to electricians who have been in the trade for a number of years but don’t get much help or support.

Bridging the gender gap.

While more females are moving into the trades, most trade businesses are still largely male-dominated working environments. Generally speaking, many blokes are reluctant to talk about things like ‘feelings’ so NECA has developed what it calls a ‘No Bull’ approach to try and get tradies more comfortable talking about these issues.

“There is a bit of a macho image in the electrical industry. And it’s true that a lot of programs out there are very ‘soft’. So we want to target that macho image and say ‘this information we’re providing  and upholding  as NECA is no bull’.

“It’s all about giving members the facts, giving them exactly the right information to use at the right time and the right place – as opposed to all the historical data that goes on with this area a lot of the time.”

Talk it out.

NECA has also included health topics within its ‘Toolbox Talks’. These are essentially topics that businesses can discuss with their staff over a BBQ or staff safety meeting. The talks include factual information on a range of issues from binge drinking and loneliness to how stop yourself from getting angry in three seconds.

Better wellness = better business.

The success of NECA’s program, and others like it, can be in part attributed to the fact that while caring for a worker’s wellbeing is morally sound, it also pays real dividends economically.

“You can demonstrate an ROI on a wellness program. There are some formulas out there that allow businesses to plug in data from the company (sick days, productivity times etc.) and pull out how much they’re going to be saving. So there’s value in it apart from it being the right thing to do by your employees in terms of growing with them, getting to know them and creating a community or family orientated atmosphere,” says Phyllis.

“The cost of not focusing on this area can be quite dramatic. Because a lot of small businesses set up without including these checks and programs, they’re introducing risk without realising it. Ignoring the health of your employees will impact your bottom line, so rather than just being reactive, get proactive and put a health promotion program in place from the outset.”

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