Icon Water supplies essential water and sewerage services to the Australian Capital Territory, employing around 400 people.
In 2015, following a period of organisational change and low levels of employee engagement, Icon Water embarked on an initiative to improve employee mental health. The business identified it is reactive to mental health issues and largely relied on Employee Assistance Program (EAP) support.
A business case for a mental health strategy was developed using internal data and statistical information on mental health from other organisations like Heads Up, Black Dog Institute, SANE and PwC. The business case was presented to the Executive Committee which endorsed the approach, which was based on organisational performance, industry research and community expectations.
With the assistance of CommuniCorp, Icon Water conducted an employee survey and facilitated staff focus groups covering specific workplace mental health themes. The survey and focus groups were designed to understand the current state and clarify the need. As a result, Icon Water developed an action plan with a list of targeted actions, including:
- clarify roles, responsibilities and ensure position descriptions are up to date
- reintroduce regular staff social activities at all work sites
- provide training and support for management to incorporate change and help build a resilient workforce
- ensure leaders are equipped to manage conflict and address concerning behaviour.
The biggest impact on reducing stigma in the workplace was made when a worker shared his personal experience of the ‘ups and downs’ of his mental health. Six face to face presentations were delivered to staff, with nearly half of the organisation attending. These presentations were delivered through storytelling and sharing raw events. This had a flow on effect, encouraging eight employees to later share their personal experiences with the individual. The trust established through the sharing of personal experiences encouraged the other eight individuals to open up about their experience.
These open conversations led Icon Water to develop a mental health toolkit for leaders. The toolkit provides leaders with a guide for having conversations about mental health and wellbeing with employees. Icon Water is now taking its learnings to the Water Services Association of Australia and participating in the development of a mental health framework for the industry.
- Icon Water plans to conduct another employee survey and more focus groups to review progress, as part of its health and safety strategy for 2020-23.
- Workers have identified that more people are talking about mental health. Although hard to quantify, regular conversations about mental health illustrate the positive impact of the initiative.
The biggest challenge is breaking down years of mental health stigma. Historically, this topic has been taboo, but with persistence and conversations, the topic of mental health is normalised and people feel comfortable saying ‘I’m not ok’.
To ensure the mental health strategy is successful, Icon Water has engaged senior leaders for support. Leadership support was instrumental in rolling out initiatives and effecting change in the business. If leaders do not believe there are issues, real organisational change will not be achieved.
Icon Water found that having an understanding of its operating environment – the key stressors for staff and the causes of these stressors – helped implement meaningful and sustainable interventions aimed at building a resilient and mentally health working environment.