Mental Health Awareness Increasing Among Oil, Gas Industry

Mental Health Awareness Increasing Among Oil, Gas Industry
Mindfulness-based stress management is growing in popularity across the oil and gas industry, says Robert Gordon University's Dr Steve Smith.

Mindfulness-based stress management is growing in popularity across the oil and gas industry as the sector responds to a rise in mental health awareness, according to Robert Gordon University Senior Lecturer in Mental Health and Wellbeing, Dr Steve Smith.

“Approaches involving mindfulness meditation are attracting increased attention as the benefits of this skills-based technique are becoming recognized,” said Smith.

The fall in oil price and its effect on the economic state of the industry, resulting in thousands of redundancies, has meant that stress related conditions such as anxiety and depression have become important issues within the sector, Smith revealed.

“The economic uncertainty has resulted in a rise in stress related problems, causing issues for organizations as they come to realize that the mental health of their workforce is a major asset to be protected,” he said.

“We already know that stress related illness is one of the major causes of sickness related absence in industry. Work related stress accounted for almost half (43 percent) of all days lost to the British economy in 2014/15, with 440,000 workers affected and a total of 9.9 million days lost…While every employer is aware of the need to protect employees from the effects of harmful and toxic work environments, some are coming to see the benefits of proactively protecting the mental wellbeing of their workforce too,” Smith added.

Smith is currently working with North Sea oil and gas companies as they seek new ways to proactively protect their workforce from the harmful effects of work related stress. Mindfulness-based approaches are one of the most accessible mental health solutions used by organizations of all sizes and across all sectors, encouraging participants to focus on what is happening now as opposed to becoming engaged in thoughts of future or past events.

“In very practical terms, it’s easy to adopt the techniques of mindfulness practice,” Smith told Rigzone.

“Mindfulness-based training is flexible to any audience and working environment, and has been shown to significantly reduce stress and anxiety, lessen distraction and increase attention to task. Mindfulness practice can also help staff to achieve more and to a higher standard,” said Smith.

“Many organizations are providing free mindfulness classes for their staff; RGU has been doing this for the last three years, and as word spreads other organizations are offering drop-in sessions and structured programs providing instruction and support for staff to ‘be-in-the-moment’,” he added.

Premier Oil was the first oil and gas company to engage with RGU’s mental health solutions, agreeing to conduct an initial trial involving a volunteer group of 12 staff exploring Mindfulness Based Stress Management as a means to proactively protect its workforce.  

“With the challenges of modern working life, we recognized the value in offering mindfulness training to our employees as one means of improving and maintaining their wellbeing. We wanted to offer a skill that would benefit employees at home as well as at work. It was well received by the trial group and we intend to offer this training to the wider population in our UK Business,” said Vic Retalic, UK HSE & Security Manager for Premier Oil.

Dr Steve Smith discusses the importance of mental health management and the practicalities of adopting Mindfulness techniques.


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Alan Whitley  |  July 06, 2016
Mindfullness training has been shown to help individuals who choose to participate in the training deal with stress. Bringing your dog to work has been scientifically proven to reduce stress. Taking a walk during your lunch break also. Some people swear by a healthy diet and lifestyle. Doctors might prescribe various antidepressant drugs. Some people will just up and leave and go find work in a healthier work environment. The problem I have with articles like this one is the suggestion that a workplace stress problem within an organisation is a result of its employees mindset, and that the obligation to fix the problem rests solely with them. The problem I have with employers providing resilience/ mindfulness training is they are exonerating themselves, essentially telling their already stressed out employees, This is your problem. Go fix it by completing this course.' Quite ironic, and just a bit insulting, when the reality is that workplace stress is a direct consequence of the way a workplace is organised, managed and lead. This is not some ethereal or tenuous concept, but well researched and well understood. A business intent on reducing the workplace stressors it has created or permitted is able to eliminate or reduce these stressors and improve working conditions. There appears to be two barriers though. 1. Society continues to let businesses off the hook when it comes to workplace stress. Why arent we talking about the workplace health and safety obligations all employers have for its employee’s mental health and well-being. This is enshrined in legislation, but even our authorities are loath to act against companies who create mentally unhealthy workplaces. We must stop companies from shifting the problem to its employees and make them accountable for the stressful environment they have created. 2. The international psychology fraternity have identified workplace stress as an industry growth strategy and have made this issue their domain, by including resilience and mindfulness in their curriculum and providing training, coaching and tertiary treatment services to companies. The issue here is it perpetuates the belief that workplace stress is the employees problem, and does nothing to improve the workplace situation. Worse though is the fact that the popular press upon hearing about a company adopting these services for its employees then runs an article espousing how humanistic the company is. Worse again is that the psychology industry is not served by remedying the workplace stress situation as this will diminish this strategic market for them. We must change the conversation and reframe the problem. For nearly three decades workplace stress academics have consistently shown that primary interventions, those that address the sources of workplace stress, are the most effective, sustainable and lowest cost approach an organisation can take. Mindfulness training is a secondary, or ameliorative response to the issue. The organisational processes and tools to manage stress with primary interventions are well proven, documented and understood, and readily available in the public domain. We need only look to our Nordic neighbours for best practice in this space, with most of the Scandinavian countries legislating mandatory stress management processes and primary interventions a decade or more ago (its no small coincidence that the Danes are consistently surveyed to be the happiest people on the planet). To the CEOs, HR VPs and Corporate Board members considering acting on stress in their workplace, do your research and due diligence on the options available to you and look beyond the headline articles. Alan Whitley