Michael Nolan is a WSAA Young Utility Leader for 2020/21 and his role at Icon Water as the Health and Wellbeing Coordinator has been an important one during COVID-19. In this blog Michael reflects on the recently released WSAA Water Industry Mental Health Framework and calls on all of us to take up our role as mental health leaders in the workplace.
A change is in the air – with Australia’s healthcare sector on the edge of a paradigm shift from a primarily reactive, ‘after-the-fact’ treatment-based approach, to one that harnesses and truly favours proactive, preventative support of people’s physical and mental wellbeing. While embracing such a shift is a significant challenge, it is also one that will come with high reward in a climate of ever-increasing Australian health sector uncertainty and demand (Butler, Daddia & Azizi, 2020).
The workplace, generally, represents “a key platform for health promotion into the 21st century” (WHO, 2020). Much like schools and the community, the workplace is a specially placed environment with regular and ongoing influence over people often pre-illness or injury; preventatively. Positively, there are early signs that more and more industries and organisations like ours are embracing this opportunity to be places of leadership in health promotion.
The creation and launch of WSAA’s Water Industry Mental Health Framework (WIMHF) is a progressive leap forward not just for our industry and water utilities, but for all of our people. The WIMHF provides a strong foundation for a strategic approach to mental health promotion in the workplace and more than ever before gives authority to all of us to be mental health leaders in our workplaces and beyond. It is easy for us to limit our water assets to the pipes in the ground and the infrastructure in our plants, while our most valuable assets are those looking right back at us – our people. This framework acknowledges exactly that. At its core, the WIMHF refreshingly and clearly encourages our industry to embrace its special position of health influence to place our people first by proactively supporting and promoting their health and wellbeing.
Now, while the creation and launch of the WIMHF is a pivotal leap forward, its ability to create positive change at the front lines of our industry relies heavily on each of us. Its role is to inform, influence and set a benchmark that water utilities and delivery partners can reference to create or adapt their own organisational mental health strategies. In the case of Icon Water, we have utilised the WIMHF to do just that by creating our own “Live Well” Health Framework; a version of the WIMHF that is specific to us, our organisational culture and priorities. For us this has given broader context and strategic direction to our own health and wellbeing initiatives. It is under such an organisational framework that specific mental health initiatives are given more meaning and are more likely to succeed, translating to greater initiative engagement and health, people and performance outcomes (Petrie et al., 2017).
So, in a climate of ever-increasing uncertainty and demand, I call on all of us to ponder the part that we as individuals, that our workplaces and that our industry has in contributing to a broadened, prevention-focused healthcare. I call on all of us to embrace our role in mental health leadership in the urban water industry and beyond, and finally I call on all of us to capitalise on the WIMHF as a tangible means of placing our people first now and into the future.
Butler, S., Daddia, J., & Azizi, T. (2020). The future of health in Australia. Retrieved 10 August 2020, from https://www.pwc.com.au/health/health-matters/the-future-of-health-in-australia.html
Petrie, K., Joyce, S., Tan, L., Henderson, M., Johnson, A., & Nguyen, H. et al. (2017). A framework to create more mentally healthy workplaces: A viewpoint. Australian & New Zealand Journal Of Psychiatry, 52(1), 15-23. doi: 10.1177/0004867417726174
WHO | Workplace health promotion. (2020). Retrieved 9 August 2020, from https://www.who.int/occupational_health/topics/workplace/en/