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Health of our industry is the health of our people

GRDC managing director and CEO Anthony Williams.
Photo: GRDC

Normally I would use this opportunity to share progress that GRDC has made towards executing its strategy to create enduring profitability improvements for Australian grain growers.

In a way, I am doing that; however, in what has been one of the most challenging years across the globe, the focus for my comments is our people – in many ways our most important assets. Our people are assets across GRDC, its grower investors, its partners and the communities in which we all work and live. In an environment where work and our workplaces seem to have become central topics, I feel the real focus of our attention should be the health – both physical and mental – of our teams, their families and their communities.

These strange times seem to intensify the potential for disruptions to elements of our life, such as where and how we work, by adding the impact of limited access to family, friends and workmates – the people to whom we would normally turn to keep our lives balanced and share any challenges or successes we experience as part of our working lives.

We recently observed RUOK Day – when we all took some very valuable time to ask ‘Are you OK?’ – and be very attentive to the answer. Making this time and including this sort of interaction in our everyday people management practices may be much more important than we think.

Health and safety

GRDC has been conducting regular ‘pulse checks’ of our team, asking questions related to how they are coping workwise, how they are feeling, and asking whether there are other team members they might have some concern about, respecting confidentiality, of course. And we have learned, from the answers the team provided about themselves, as well as insights about how they feel others might be coping, that there were things to worry about. Some of our team were not doing well.

We talk a lot about safety – and rightly so. Most of the time, the focus of this conversation is operational safety. One of the impacts of this global health challenge has been to include in that discussion emotional and mental safety. This is an issue that seems to be compounded by the remoteness of some of the communities in which our team live and work. Add to this the stress that recent environmental events such as bushfires and droughts have created, and the question ‘Are you OK?’ becomes even more important.

GRDC has support structures in place, so we were able to offer assistance that continued questioning and ‘pulse checks’ seem to suggest is helping. I would encourage all employers to continue to ask how their teams – and friends and families – are going, and carefully listen to the answers.

The outcome might be that a serious consequence is avoided.

The pandemic has also had a major impact on how we interact with our ‘customers’. We have all seen the impacts of some people not respecting the requested restrictions and personal behaviours, resulting in community transmissions that have locked down ‘hot spots’, cities and whole states.

After starting with a national approach to responding to the early stages of the pandemic, GRDC, through the ‘pulse checks’ I mentioned, has been able to maintain a sense of short-term impacts on our usual methods of interacting with growers and research partners by region. While elements such as restricted travel have helped GRDC meet its obligations to protect our teams, your teams and your communities, we are also aware that as health authority advice became more localised, we could start to engage more broadly – in certain locations – with more confidence. To that end, we have adjusted our approach to interaction to make it more tailored and flexible based on localised health management advice. So watch out for more contact from your local GRDC teams over the coming weeks – ongoing health advice restrictions permitting, of course.

If you are experiencing distress, anxiety or depression, go to FarmHub's mental health section, which connects Australian farmers to a range of helpful services and support.

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