From ergonomic sweeps to mental health- with Geraldine King, The Workplace Health, Safety and Wellbeing Manager at Citibank
“The change is that people used to see mental health as that extreme kind of end of diagnosis, whereas what we have been trying to tell people in workplaces for sometime is that it is a part of life. So if you employ people. The chances are that you are going to have people in your workplace who are suffering at various times with all sorts of things…. if we can get people back to work as quickly as possible, then it benefits them, and it benefits the organisation”
Geraldine King- The Workplace Health, Safety and Wellbeing Manager at Citibank, is taking a progressive approach to corporate wellness. King uses systems that take a preventative approach to health, emphasises the benefits of employee one-on-ones and does regular office checks which she calls ergonomic sweeps.
King, who was once a registered OH&S nurse, dealt with mental health in her patients and now with her employees. She states that most mental health issues need to be approached by organisations as a part of life; whether that’s a family crisis or a life changing incident. If we change our perceptions on mental health, we can change our approach when addressing mental health issues. At Citibank, Geraldine King works on getting their employee’s confidence back up and ready to work as fast as possible.
TR: …Let’s talk workstations, i guess, first of all, what’s important about a work station, why do they matter?
GK: They matter because people spend such a long day at work, particularly in areas like corporate financial institutions, they’re there all day. Not only are workstations but their work spaces are important.
TR: And how do you assess what makes a good workspace?
GK: Well, i think when people are genuinely happy you don’t hear from them. When people are experiencing aches, pains, issues, that’s when you will hear that they are unhappy, they may want a sit/stand workstation, and their doctor has recommended that that change, particularly when they are in roles where they have to sit for long periods of times and they are concentrating.
TR: And do you think that it is important initiating the discussions with people about their workspace or do you wait for them to be telling the organisation?
GK: We try to take a preventive approach. We will do massive, what we call, ergonomic sweeps, every so often to remind them how to make adjustments, to remind them to get up. So it’s both… we try to give people as much information as we can. But when people are, when there is a big project on, pinned to their desks for a while, or feel like they are, they will inevitably get aches pains and illnesses. And generally what i have learnt from over the years is they go with feeling really, really stressed. So you tense your muscles, you know, your at work, your worried about something else, and your likely to get an ergonomic injury perhaps.
TR: I like the sound of ergonomic sweeps, i’m picturing guys in FBI like vests, coming through the office… how do you actually do it though?
GK: Well it would either be with me or a couple of consultants, just emailing out communications prior to that saying we will be in the office this day, and staff love it. Pick me, pick me. And that’s their opportunity to ask for all sorts of things… You try to be as proactive as possible but you really need the services where you see people for a one-on-one assessment when they need.
TR: So how open, do you think an organisation needs to be to an individual’s needs? You know for a while, the big thing was the big bouncy balls… so how open should an organisation be? Should you allow anything? Do you need to set parameters?
GK: You’ve got to set parameters i think. The bouncy ball is a good example… you can imagine the chaos…As some businesses do their latest refurbishments they put in a sit/stand desk which i think is absolutely fine because then people have those options and they can decide for themselves. So i am all for next refurbishments going down that line, it is just a bit more challenging when you don’t have that capacity and then you have to put boundaries around who gets it and why.
TR: So i want to move on to another area that i think you are very interested in , and that is mental health in the workplace. Why is that an important workplace issue?
GK: Look it has always been an important workplace issue, i think it is getting more attention now than it ever has… but doing what i do it has always been something that has been an issue… I think now workplaces are starting to realise what their responsibilities are around that too.
TR: What are they?
GK: Well legislative responsibilities, to make accommodations around people who have mental health issues, and when i say mental health issues, i think that change. The change is that people used to see mental health as that extreme kind of, ends of diagnosis, whereas what we have been trying to tell people in workplaces for sometime is that it is a part of life. So, if you employ people. The chances are that you are going to have people in your workplace who are suffering at various times with all sorts of things. They may have sick children, or their relationship have broken down, or their parents are sick. They are all stuff of life things, so managing a mental health issue is no different. So if there is something wrong we need to get some idea from the doctor or specialist as to how we can assist. And there are lots of studies on if we can get people back to work as quickly as possible, then it benefits them, and it benefits the organisation. Over the years we have seen people who go off, and we don’t return them, do much, much worst. So getting people back in, and keeping their confidence up so their confident enough to do their role is much more valuable to them and to the workplace.