Oil and gas workforce wellbeing under the spotlight

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 in its workforce.

Steve Smith Enterprise FellowThe 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.

Dr Steve Smith from Robert Gordon University (RGU) is working with North Sea oil and gas companies as they seek innovative ways to proactively protect their workforce from the harmful effects of work related stress. 

Dr Smith, who is an Enterprise Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Mental Health and Wellbeing at RGU's School of Nursing, explains: “The economic uncertainty has resulted in a rise in stress related problems, causing issues for organisations as they come to realise that the mental health of their workforce is a major asset to be protected.

“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%) 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.

 “Approaches involving Mindfulness meditation are attracting increased attention as the benefits of this skills-based technique are becoming recognised.” 

Mindfulness based approaches are currently one of the most accessible mental health solutions used by organisations 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.

Dr Smith, who leads the RGU:Wellness mental health solutions service, continues: “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.

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

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

Dr Smith continues: “Mental health solutions at RGU:Wellness provide a comprehensive range of brief, evidence-based interventions designed to deliver a prompt and accessible service to organisations, enabling companies such as Premier Oil to protect and enhance the wellbeing of its workforce in an affordable and effective manner.”

Dr Smith delivered an eight week course to Premier Oil’s initial group of employees in Aberdeen which was based on a weekly two hour session at the company’s premises in Kingswells.

Vic Retalic, UK HSE & Security Manager for Premier Oil explained: “With the challenges of modern working life, we recognised 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."

“Premier could see the strain that the economic uncertainty was having on the industry and is paving the way for the rest of the sector to recognise that proactively protecting the mental health of its workforce is a valuable and necessary investment in its prime commercial asset,” adds Dr Smith.

Find out more about RGU:Wellness, a specialist occupational health service for workplace absence management

Release by
Anna DuthieCommunications Officer