Brian Long, Woolworths Group

Published Thu, Sep 10, 2020

In my previous roles, serious injury and death were a reality. When people got hurt, I needed to be resilient; to remain positive to keep everybody else’s spirits up.

I took on too much of that burden, however, and by 2017-18 I was completely worn out physically and mentally. I was a shell of the person I was before or wanted to be.

But I learnt the importance of being vulnerable and getting support. I reflected on myself and my work. I created space to live the genuine life I wanted to live. I added things outside of work that gave me joy and fulfilment.

Mental health is now a crucial element in my whole being.

Money where our mouth is

I joined Woolworths for a reason. There was a genuine sense from the board, executives and our CEO Brad Banducci, that we need to do right by our team and members of the community. I found a place where I can fulfil my personal aspirations around mental health and wellbeing at a company that cares.

Mental health is at the core of what the organisation wants to stand for and be renowned for. While it’s cliché, Woolworths is putting its money where its mouth is.

We have an ‘I am here’ program geared not just to mental health, but wellbeing more holistically.

An essential service

Woolworths is an essential service provider during the pandemic. We have to place our people at risk, but society can’t function otherwise.

The pandemic has accelerated our desire to prepare people mentally to do their work in a crazy and complex world.

When we had positive cases, we provided mental health support through on-site clinicians and nurses, provided applications and tools, and we ramped up our COVID-19 hotline.

The overriding feedback is that people are proud to work for an organisation that has taken leading positions on issues like masks. And they’re very proud that when teams have needed support, Woolworths hasn’t flinched.

Lessons we’re learning

But we haven’t cracked this by any stretch of the imagination. We are continually learning. We’ve found that there is a continuum of mental health. Some may be having a very negative acute reaction; another might be worrying about finances. So, we need to personalise support and not treat it generically.

Financial wellbeing is something that contributes directly to mental health. We have created tools and support to give people information, support and even loans through Good Shepherd Microfinance.

We’ve also learnt that people respond to support in different ways, depending on age, socioeconomic background and nationality, and we need multi-faceted offerings to reach more people.

Aligned with the Alliance

Fundamentally, the aspirations of Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia align almost perfectly with our own.

There’s been a clamour to do something in this space. But there are too many offerings and it becomes, ironically, overwhelming. But we know that good mental health means getting rid of that sense of being overwhelmed. The Alliance has the potential to declutter the landscape and provide real clarity around who is doing what.

With COVID-19, the waters are going to get even choppier in the context of mental health in the next six to 12 months. It’s even more important that organisations like the ones that are part of the Alliance stay the course and remain resolute and committed to making a difference.

Brian Long, General Manager Safety, Health & Wellbeing, Woolworths Group

Board Member, Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia

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