Redefining flexible working as a pathway to employee wellbeing

When wellbeing is prioritised, employees are more productive, present and committed to their roles
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Employee mental health has until now been an underestimated business priority.

However, mental illness has significant emotional and business costs. In Australia, businesses are estimated to lose between $11 and $12 billion dollars[1] every year through absences from conditions like depression and anxiety. Furthermore, with and one five Australians estimated to experience a mental illness every year[2], almost every individual and organisation is, directly or indirectly, affected.

However, these statistics also point to positive impacts when wellbeing is prioritised. Employees are more productive, present and committed to their roles when they are mentally healthy.

This is particularly true in the professional services industries like design and engineering, where talented workers are employed to devise sophisticated solutions to complex problems. Keeping our minds healthy can ensure business outcomes are the best they can be.

Organisations can prioritise mental health by providing support and fostering an open culture of caring. This approach has been prioritised and funded at Jacobs where a number of initiatives have been implemented supporting wellbeing including an annual mental health check-in, appointing and training positive mental health champions and awareness campaigns to help break down mental illness stigmas. 

However, another approach is starting to emerge at Jacobs that is highly supportive to wellbeing; flexible working. While nothing new, parents (predominately mothers) who need to balance families have tended to be the only employees to take up flexible working. As such, Jacobs is driving a culture where everyone has this option, and the wellbeing benefits are evident.

Jacobs Executive Director of Operations Kelly Maslin, recently spoke out on the impact on her wellbeing when she stopped working flexibly. She says ‘Throughout my career, as a water engineer and several leadership positions, I have worked flexibly to balance work with family. However, my partner recently took a career break and, I stopped. However, I soon realised how unhappy I was to be missing out on shared moments with my family and have quickly re-adopted a flexible working approach. I may no longer need to work flexibly, but I want to.”

This sentiment a was reflected in the deluge of feedback Kelly received when she shared her story, with many sharing how they too felt more productive and happy at work when able to work flexibly. 

Giving employees the ability to manage personal passions and aspirations alongside professional goals is an effective buffer to mental health issues arising. When people are able to pursue those things that really matter to them it builds self-esteem, gives a sense of pride and balance that spills over into all areas of life, including the place where we spend most of our lives: at work.

Furthermore, as well as preventative, having access to mental health management and flexible work options can also help people address potential mental health challenges.

This was true for Ross Jones, Jacobs’Vice President of Strategic Growth and Disability Executive Sponsor who has spoken out about his own challenges with depression.  When Jacobs supported him with time off, and a phased approach to returning to work, Ross made a full recovery with positive impacts on his family life and career.

He says ‘Being supported by my manager when I suffered a depressive episode over ten years ago helped me quickly recover, and I have since gone on to numerous senior leadership roles. I am proud that we have matured as a company and, while we do everything we can to ensure that the working environment is not a contributor to mental illness, we have come to accept that our people will experience mental illness just like they will experience physical illnesses and we have to be there for them when they do.  It is clear that an important component of that care is having the freedom to work flexibly and plays an important role in creating culture of caring for employees’.