Jon's story

Mental health can often be overlooked because it can’t been seen, at least, not in the same way as a broken arm or a black eye.

The below article was written by Jon Rowe – HSEQ Manager at Port of Cromarty Firth; it discusses why ports should care about mental health, as he explains, It’s not all legal responsibilities, it’s about the people too.

John’s Story

My tutors at art college would encourage us (as trainee artistes) to “remain as receptive as children” – to receive the world around you with inquisitive energy and curiosity that drives you to ask questions and push boundaries… because, it was said that during our experiences in the “adult world”, there was the very real potential to become less-receptive; desensitised. Excitement silently exchanged by arduous tasks of arranging mortgage rate renewals and attempting to understand the laundry requirements on clothing labels…

Nice… but it’s not good enough to ensure good mental health…

My best friend at university, a cultural historian, would often say: “We are the product of our upbringing, our environment and a sum of our decisions made”. He had a hand-written sign stuck on his door that said: “You may be certain the world is heading for disaster, but it is a good thing…a moral thing, to believe as if there is still hope” Primo Levy.

We’d discuss this and decide that the value was to remain optimistic in the face of adversity, to forecast the unknown with positivity and refulgence, and this would often shape the outcome of conversations in the communal kitchen / pub / all-night diner.

Thinking on what good mental health looks like. I personally feel that we need to ensure that our inner whole-selves are cared for, feel safe, are able to relate to the world, and have the capacity to make confident decisions. I believe that we can do this by promoting and sharing simple values during “normal times” by:

  • Being kind
  • Being realistic
  • Acting with empathy
  • Being prepared to learn
  • Remaining teachable
  • Listening actively
  • Relating
  • Building trust
  • Asking for help
  • Taking ownership
  • Speaking truthfully and demonstrating compassion

The Port of Cromarty Firth (PoCF), as an organisation, has purposefully committed to recognising and proactively supporting the mental health of employees. As an international port we work directly with hundreds of thousands of people each year. Making decisions and building relationships are at the heart of what we do.

We believe that mental health is key to overall health and wellbeing; a factor of physical health and safety, and ensuring we practice this level of fitness, helps to shape our world of work around us. As Doctor Lauren Fogel-Mersey said: “Being able to be your true self is one of the strongest components of good mental health”.

We are not qualified psychotherapists or human performance analysts and our current approach does not attempt to interconnect with recognised medical interventions for psychiatric disorder or disability. Our journey has focused more on aspects of creating the opportunity to talk, developing a shared approach in supporting mental wellbeing and building resilient presence.

We aim to create an environment where people feel safe to speak, ask for help and make time to help others . We set out to ensure that mental health support is not complicated – which has been part of why it has worked well for us.

Why should the Port Industry care?

Simply because workplace risk increases where mental health declines. We all have legal responsibilities to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of our employees under:

  • The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
  • The Equality Act 2010

The port industry is required to evaluate risks, making sure we consider risks to people’s mental health as well as their physical health, and to act on the findings.

Stress and fatigue are more commonly recognised through risk assessment, but other factors such as potential for feeling isolated, poor communication, lack of support, discrimination, inequality or existing mental health conditions should be closer scrutinised.

We can start to make changes by implementing ways of managing work so that it removes factors like ambiguity, rumour, and insecurity; and promotes shared purpose, autonomy and role clarity. This unlocks discretionary effort and work starts to feel good at an alarming rate. The World Health Organisation acknowledges that: “Decent work is good for Mental Health”.

At the PoCF, as soon as we looked at it, in our department teams and as an organisation, we realised there were things we could immediately start to put into action. We upgraded our occupational health provider, upskilled employees in mental health first aid and created a focus on wellbeing within our safety forums. We conducted staff surveys and took action on the results – one very popular request being the reinstatement of work social events.

Other actions were to deliberately address role clarity – having clear conversations to ensure that employees understand what is expected of them in their role, and how it contributes to the organisation’s goals. Shift-working rotas have been improved and a hybrid-working strategy was introduced to re-design the ways we work; boosting productivity and enhancing work/life balance.

There are also some simple, scientifically proven methods for supporting positive mental health in the workplace:

  • Go home on time
  • Take a lunch break
  • Set realistic deadlines
  • Take your holiday leave
  • Allocate time to do things you enjoy

I recommend putting these on display in your work kitchen.

It is not about doing more “stuff” on mental health – it’s about getting more from what you already do. Don’t make it too difficult. Always be kind to people and believe in yourself, and in everybody else too.

Jon Rowe – HSEQ Manager at Port of Cromarty Firth