Mental Wellbeing Forums Update

28 September 2020

AMWF groups are already up and running across the ACA branches in the eastern states, with other branches following the lead shortly. Facilitators in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne offer an update on plans and how to get involved.

QLD/NT Architect’s Mental Wellbeing Forum

The QLD/NT group first met via video conference on 6 April. We found so much value in connecting and talking that we have continued to meet monthly since then via video conference. We aim to raise awareness of mental wellbeing and share knowledge, resources and stories in order to support and promote good practices and better workplace environments in our businesses.

The power of collective wisdom has been evident in our meetings so far, with practices sharing their wide-ranging experiences of such things as mental health first aid courses, employee assistance programs, staff wellbeing surveys and check-ins, and how practices are enabling good communication for remote and hybrid ways of working.

It has been very reassuring to discover that others are navigating similar challenges, and pooling our research and ideas has assisted all of us.

Architecture can be a very rewarding but stressful profession. Supporting good mental wellbeing in our practices is good for business, with happier, more productive staff providing better project outcomes and client experiences. 

Working as an architect and running our practices has become even more challenging this year with COVID-related challenges such as remote working, isolation, and implementing COVID-safe work practices upon our return to the office and site. These challenges have made it more important than ever to focus on wellbeing support for our people.

To get involved with the QLD/NT Architect’s Mental Wellbeing Forum, contact ACA – QLD/NT Executive Officer Louise Street.

Justine Ebzery

VIC/TAS Architect’s Mental Wellbeing Forum

The VIC/TAS group held its first open forum on Zoom on 30 July. Attendees were invited to share their experiences and stories, and to describe why it was important for them to be there. We have now held three meetings and the group is growing each time. We meet on the last Thursday of the month from 1.15–2pm, a convenient lunchtime meeting time to suit busy schedules. The format is casual and we aim to address a theme each meeting as well as opening to general discussion. We had planned to launch the group with a face to face breakfast meeting, but with the ongoing restrictions under COVID, meetings of the forum are conducted online. The great thing about that of course is that it makes the group more accessible to a greater range of people from both a geographic and time management perspective.

The VIC/TAS group aims to build on the resources and lessons of the AMWF UK to further identify and develop support for the architectural community in Australia. We would like all our members to be able to offer input into the future direction of the group and we will continue to base the content of our forums on the local needs of architects in Victoria and Tasmania. At the same time, we are establishing links between the different AMWF groups around Australia to share resources and insights. In addition to flexible discussions and information sharing among members, we would like to continue having the occasional guest speaker. For example, Brian Clohessy from BVN spoke with the group to share his insights and lessons learnt.

To date we have shared information about coping with the immediate impacts of more acute situations of mental health as well as the more general challenges of the pandemic and the related impact this has had on our people and their work and home lives while working remotely. We have compared notes on EAP services and online mental health training opportunities that are readily accessible. We have shared our own stories on why an AMWF is important to us and our practices, and shared information on strategies for wellbeing within our practices and how they have been received. The key lesson during remote working has been having a program or planned regular contact with staff.

Wellbeing practices in a business are an integral part of its culture, affecting recruitment and retention of talent, creativity and business outcomes. A better understanding of the wellbeing requirements of small to medium business owners and directors also supports the diverse range of architectural practices and employers who will ultimately grow our industry and provide opportunities for architects and other technical and non-technical staff in the future. 

We see it as important to address the needs of the wide range of people that make up a practice – from new graduates through to experienced employees and business owners and directors. Many wellbeing needs are similar, but each group also has a different range of pressures and difficulties that they deal with each day, and the support they need will sometimes be different. We’re very practiced at focusing discussion on the needs of employees, but seem to find it harder to remain on topic when discussing measures that may help support practice owners and directors. This is perhaps a gap that we can address.

If you would like to get involved in the VIC/TAS Architects Mental Wellbeing Forum, please contact me at katherine.ygosse@aca.org.au or vic@aca.org.au. I’d especially like to hear from practices in Tasmania to incorporate them into the group and help provide the support they may need.

Katherine Ygosse

NSW/ACT Architect’s Mental Wellbeing Forum

The NSW/ACT forum held its first meeting recently on 30 September. We will be holding monthly meetings and aiming to keep them relatively short at around 45 minutes. We’re open minded about how they will be run, and will continue to tweak them as we go along. We would like them to be safe spaces encouraging people to openly share. For the first meeting we kept it reasonably informal for people to share what their office have been doing, what’s working and what could be better.

We know as a society that mental health is an issue that has not been well addressed. This was borne out by the 2016 research that the NSW Architects Registration Board conducted about architects and mental health. It’s not a secret that architects work long hours to meet demanding timetables, providing the perfect incubator for mental health issues. I’m expecting that the research project being led by Naomi Stead at Monash University around these issues will be as shocking as her previous research on gender equity and diversity in the profession.

In the long term we would like our forum to have a positive impact upon the wellbeing of the profession, with mental health the main focus. In the short term, we’re hoping to create a space to connect, share, spread ideas and techniques around developing a culture concerned about the mental wellbeing of the profession.

To get involved with the NSW/ACT Architect’s Mental Wellbeing Forum, contact me directly to be included in the mailing list: michael@redshiftaa.com.au.

Michael Lewarne



Image: Jeremy Bishop, Unsplash