A journey for positive mental health with NVC Precast

Posted on  by Leon Cranswick

NVC Precast’s journey through the Civil Contractors Federation (CCF) Positive Plans, Positive Futures program is fostering mental health awareness. Amanda Cole, NVC Precast SHEQ Systems Manager explains.

With mental health a prevalent issue within the construction industry, many organisations are looking to increase their resources and understanding of the impacts of mental health.

In July 2021, NVC Precast signed up for Positive Plans – Positive Futures, a program developed by the Civil Construction Federation (CCF) of Victoria which aims to establish an action plan to prevent stresses and anxiety caused by common workplace factors. It also aims to improve mental health outcomes for all workers across the construction industry.

Developed by CCF Victoria, the state-wide project is supported by WorkSafe’s WorkWell Mental Health Improvement Fund.

Amanda Cole, NVC Precast SHEQ Systems Manager, says uncertainty caused by COVID-19 lockdowns promoted the issue and accelerated the need for mental health support for NVC Precast’s employees and their families.

“We saw anecdotal evidence that people were struggling. We’re an essential service, so we continued working through these lockdowns. There were just so many stresses and different things that people were dealing with. Our employees started having more discussions around emotions such as stress, sadness, uncertainty and fear,” she says.

“When you add COVID-19 on top of that, these emotions can become overwhelming. By participating in the Positive Plans – Positive Futures program, we are equipping our leaders and managers with the tools to offer additional support to employees.”

NVC Precast's manufacturing site.
NVC Precast is implementing the Positive Plans – Positive Futures program to encourage discussions around mental health on the work site.

Implementing the program

Implementing the Positive Plans – Positive Futures program for NVC Precast began with an independent third-party survey, which was designed to provide an insight into the working environment and operation of the business. Factors such as job demands, access to management, equality and communication were assessed.

NVC Precast then sought to develop key action plans to prevent work-related stress, address burn-out, increase the effectiveness of communication and improve mental health outcomes for all workers.

With more than 11 years’ experience in her role at NVC Precast, Cole says implementing the Positive Plans – Positive Futures program has come at an ideal time for the prestressed and precast concrete producer.

“In the past four years, we’ve more than doubled in size. With this expansion comes an increased number of staff,” she says. “We’ve always been a supportive and open organisation. If our employees had an issue or a problem, they could discuss it privately with their manager so we could assist them in the short, medium or long term,” she says.

“For years, this worked really well. But at times this system did rely on the employee voicing their concerns first. If they didn’t, these issues could just bubble underneath the surface, so the aim now is to provide an environment that’s conducive to everyone talking about mental health.”

One of the first steps for NVC Precast was ensuring that adequate resources were available for employees, in a language and format that they were familiar with.

“The availability and accessibility of resources are essential for improving awareness and understanding of concepts and creating a mentally healthy workplace. These aspects can be challenging for businesses such as ours, who are based in regional areas,” Cole says.

“In my experience, if you were to search mental health online, it tends to go directly to a diagnosed mental health condition. We really want to focus on the wellness side, and what are the practical things that you can do to stay well, to be able to manage the normal stresses in your life.”

NVC Precast also provided practical solutions for pressures outside of the work environment such as the burden of financial stress.

“We held a toolbox style information session with some of our financial partners for our employees. This mainly focused on the services that are available to assist people if they need it, such as budgeting or financial counselling,” Cole says.

“Some people didn’t realise that those resources were even available or accessible to them, they thought they were ineligible as they were working.”

NVC Precast continued to work through COVID-19 lockdowns, where emotions such as stress and uncertainty were intensified.
As an essential service, NVC Precast continued to work through COVID-19 lockdowns, where emotions such as stress and uncertainty were intensified.

NVC Precast also began incorporating mental health terminology throughout its safety, health and human relations management systems.

Cole says doing so has helped to normalise discussions around mental health throughout the business.

“Our initial focus has been about building the level of trust with the workers to actually start these conversations, to open up and be honest about the issues that they’re facing, due to the sensitive and personal nature of mental health. It’s about encouraging our leaders and managers to listen and try to assist as best they can,” she says.

Adrian Panozzo, Project Manager, Positive Plans – Positive Futures, CCF Victoria says NVC Precast has successfully implemented the program to create a supportive workplace for positive mental health.

“We know that managing mental health in the workplace can be a complex issue. Not knowing where to start can put businesses off doing anything about it,” he says. “As a Founding Partner of CCF Victoria’s Positive Plans – Positive Futures initiative, NVC Precast have demonstrated outstanding leadership and commitment to creating a mentally healthy workplace for their workers.”

“Their engagement with their workforce, and willingness to identify opportunities to change the way mental health is discussed and managed has been admirable, and the work they have done to develop their mental action plan should be celebrated.”

Cole says NVC Precast are already seeing results.

“We’re more understanding and considerate of each other. Our behaviour has changed and there’s now an extra level of sincerity and compassion that people are starting to show. Our employees are able to say ‘look, I’m just not in the right headspace today, I can’t concentrate on this particular task’. That is critical in a high-risk industry such as our own,” she says.

“These sorts of conversations are happening more between workers and managers. It’s demonstrating to everyone that it’s okay, to not be okay. It’s very pleasing to see.”

So, what’s next for NVC Precast on its journey through the Positive Plans –
Positive Futures
 program?

“Our next step is to be able to provide the training and the skills for our leaders and managers with a deliberate focus on mental health and wellness. Not necessarily to diagnose a mental health injury, but to have meaningful conversations, and to empower our workers to be proactive in managing their psychosocial wellbeing,” Cole says.

“It’s about understanding that we’re all here together and no matter what the issue is, we’ll work through it together.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing difficulty with mental health, reach out to Beyond Blue: www.beyondblue.org.au