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Expanding safety culture to encompass mental health and mental safety

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought mental health awareness and support into sharp focus, with this year’s R U OK? Day (9 September) offering the water sector the opportunity to open up about mental wellbeing, and Jacobs plans on doing just that.
Jacobs Vice President, Growth & Sales, Asia Pacific and Middle East Kelly Maslin said the company will mark the day with a discussion around mental health first-aid and suicide prevention, but will also be conducting an Activate My Wellbeing campaign throughout September, too.

Mental health and wellbeing is a strong focus for Jacobs, under both its inclusion and diversity and health, safety and wellbeing strategies, and Maslin said this is a result of recognising that employee wellbeing reaches beyond just physical safety.

“Jacobs is a global company and, for a number of years, we’ve been talking really actively and openly about mental health. As employees, and as human beings, if our mental health isn’t good, we don’t thrive. And if we don't thrive, the business does not thrive either,” Maslin said.

“In 2017, I attended our global business meeting in Dallas, and we had a whole afternoon dedicated to talking about mental health at a global level. We discussed how Jacobs has a really strong safety culture.

“We’ve been on a really successful journey around safety under a traditional construct, safety on site and workplace safety. But we recognised a critical need to grow that conversation to include all safety, which includes mental health and mental safety.”

Leading the way in mental wellbeing

This year, Jacobs will be hosting an R U OK? presentation where R U OK? Community Ambassador Mostapha Kourouche will be facilitating a conversation with employees around mental health.

“Mostapha will be discussing suicide prevention and how a conversation can save a life. But Jacobs will also be focusing on mental health throughout the whole month of September, not just on R U OK? Day,” Maslin said.

“We will have our four-week challenge, Activate My Wellbeing, which is being provided by our wellbeing health partner, Healthworks. The aim is to help us move beyond OK, designed to activate all facets of our wellbeing.

Kelly Maslin, Jacobs Vice President, Growth & Sales, Asia Pacific and Middle East.

“The initiative encourages people to check in with themselves and prioritises their health, with self-assessments, weekly activities, webinars and plenty of tips and resources. The challenge is based on key pillars of mental health and wellbeing, which shape the weekly themes: building support, rest and relaxation; physical wellbeing; and nutrition for wellness.”

Aside from the mental wellbeing focus for September, Maslin said one of the first initiatives the company embarked upon was establishing Positive Mental Health Champions which are Jacobs employees across Jacobs’ international business.

“One thing that we recognise is that we have to train people within our offices to know how to administer first-aid, but we want to have the same priority around mental health awareness,” Maslin said.

“And so we have trained a number of Positive Mental Health Champions. They’re not experts, but they support staff and are equipped to direct people to the right source of information or professional support.

“It’s really about creating a culture where it is safe for people to talk about their mental health, but also to feel safe to seek support if needed. We want to take the stigma out of it so that people can turn up to work authentically and we can provide them with the support they may need in order to thrive.”

Shifting focus

As part of Jacobs’ mental health awareness journey, Maslin said the company’s recent partnership with HealthWorks is encouraging a more holistic understanding of mental wellbeing within the business.

“Over the years, with our Positive Mental Health Champions and the various resources that we’ve developed, we cover things like sleep, lifestyle, stress, the relationship between mental and physical health, diet, and substance abuse,” she said.

“In recent months, we’ve started looking more at financial stress, too, and how this can impact mental health. We’ve curated resources and have a raft of ongoing webinars for our staff to participate in.

“In the Australian and New Zealand business, we’ve started working with HealthWorks to not only focus on physical health but wellbeing more holistically to create a real change.”

Jacobs Hobart employees celebrating R U OK Day? in 2018.

Furthermore, Maslin said Jacobs has also started working towards establishing ways of supporting its global staff base in terms of managing mental health during the current pandemic, which has surfaced as a significant contributor to poor mental health outcomes.

“Over the last 18-months as COVID-19 has changed the world, we at Jacobs were already at a pretty good place in terms of mental health support and being able to have a conversation about people's wellness, particularly people resilience,” Maslin said.

“We’ve had to shift our focus a little bit as everyone went to work remotely. But we have offices all over the world, who are being impacted in very significant ways, by the pandemic.

“A large number of our employees in India have had COVID-19, and have had close friends and family members die from COVID-19. It’s a different context and we’ve had to be very agile and nimble and adapt how we have these conversations and the support that we can provide to everybody.

“In Australia, a lot of people come from multicultural backgrounds, we have a lot of first generation immigrants, and they have family and friends all over the world, and are unable to see them and this has had a significant effect on people's wellness.”

Supporting wellness culture

Throughout Jacobs’ mental wellbeing month, the company will also be promoting its OneMillIionLives – a mental health check-in tool developed by Jacobs in partnership with mental health professionals.

“We teamed with mental health professionals to develop a free, mental health check-in tool: OneMillionLives. And we have made it available to anybody who wants to use it, not just Jacobs, but our families, friends, clients and the community,” Maslin said.

“We want to make one million lives better, by de-stigmatising mental health. It also helps us all to become more aware of our mental health and our signals for wellness.

“It’s a simple and an easy tool for anybody who wants to check in on their mental wellness.”

Furthermore, Jacobs has also recently rolled out a campaign called SLOW – Step Back, Listen to Your Body, Open Up and Wellbeing - which aims to reapply physical wellbeing strategies to mental wellness, too.

“The SLOW campaign is about listening, stepping back and paying attention to our bodies and brains. We have an overarching safety strategy, called Step Back: before you do anything, you step back and assess the risks in the moment.

“With the SLOW campaign, we are effectively applying our Step Back philosophy for physical safety to our own wellness. SLOW stands for: step back, listen to your body, open up and prioritise your wellbeing.”