Welcome to Wellbeing in Aviation Awareness Week. The irony is that wellbeing is not something you can just do for a week and then move onto something else. This week is about awareness so you can learn more about the benefits of wellbeing both within your organisation and also at a personal level.
In aviation, our job is to ensure safe and effective operations, every single day. To do that we rely on people to fly aircraft or operate complex machinery all while interacting lots of different people. Those people need to be able to perform to their best and in the same way we invest a lot of money and effort in ensuring that our aircraft and equipment can perform in difficult conditions, we need to do the same for our people.
In this article you will find out the answers to these important questions:
- What wellbeing is in the context of aviation – and what it is not.
- What wellbeing challenges we face in aviation today.
- How wellbeing programmes can help you managing human factors risks.
In the coming days, Wellbeing in Aviation Awareness Week will provide further information to help you with wellbeing implementation. There are 3 key parts to setting up an effective wellbeing programme and you will get useful tips on:
- Engaging with strategic leaders to get buy in for wellbeing at the highest level of any organisation.
- The key role of operational managers in ensuring wellbeing is actually a reality in day-to-day operations.
- How you have an individual responsibility for self-care so that you can play your part in helping to achieve safe and effective operations.
What wellbeing is in the context of aviation – and what it is not
While there is a lot of talk about wellbeing there are lots of different ideas and definitions about what it is. It’s first useful to consider some of the things that aren’t really wellbeing. At a fundamental level, think about the amount of work that goes into ensuring that aircraft are airworthy. Given the key role that individuals play in maintaining the high level of aviation safety, why should we invest less in ourselves? We are different to machinery, but there is a need to invest the same level of effort in the human side of our operations.
What wellbeing is not – some common misconceptions
When you mention wellbeing to many people, they immediately think about “Yoghurt and Yoga”. While eating well and taking physical exercise can have a positive impact on wellbeing, this approach is mostly window dressing to make people feel like they are doing something, rather than actual having a positive impact on the physical, mental and social aspects of our lives that make up wellbeing. It takes an awful lot of yoghurt and yoga to have any meaningful impact. The reality is that there is much more to wellbeing than that.
At the other end of the scale, another misconception about wellbeing is that it is the type of mental health first aid that come from health professionals or peer support programmes. Again, this is part of the puzzle, but one cannot rely only on health professionals and peer support programmes.
Another view of wellbeing that is sometimes seen, particularly when it comes to mental health, is that this is a problem for weak people who need to “man, or woman, up”. Hopefully this attitude can be confined to the history books where it belongs. Mental health needs to be taken as seriously as physical health.
The purpose of this article is to educate the whole aviation community about how to manage wellbeing as part of our normal operational activities so that we can perform to best and contribute meaningfully to safe operations.
So you are perhaps wondering what wellbeing is then?
Defining wellbeing at a personal level
The World Health Organisation defines wellbeing as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Different people focus on different aspects of wellbeing. Some people focus a lot of mental wellbeing while others focus on the physical aspects. In reality there are various things that make up our overall wellbeing.
The ‘BioPsychoSocial model of Health’ allows us to think of our health as a three-legged stool, where each of the legs represents one of the pillars: biological, psychological and social. The physical, mental and social aspects of our health are interdependent and a holistic approach is needed to ensure wellbeing.
For the purposes of our work on wellbeing in aviation, through a European-wide collaboration with various associations and academics, at an individual level wellbeing has been defined as:
“A state in which the individual is able, through the self-awareness and self-management of the physical, psychological, social, and practical aspects of their life, to work positively and productively coping with the stresses they face while achieving their personal goals and contributing in a meaningful way.”
This definition captures the different parts of our lives that contribute together to our how we feel, how we are coping and what this means for our ability to perform our day-to-day tasks in our professional lives in aviation. Our wellbeing is continually changing and at a personal level, there is a lot we can do for ourselves by practicing self-care.
Of course, this is easy to write, not so easy to do in practice. One does not instinctively know what this actually means in practice. This is where the Wellbeing Resource Hub can help. The information was put together at the early stages of the pandemic and we are always learning new things about wellbeing so the information will be continually updated.
Thankfully, more and more aviation organisations are also starting to provide information on self-care to their staff and we would like to encourage even more to do so
What wellbeing challenges we face in aviation today?
You might think that there are no wellbeing challenges in your organisation, so none of this is useful for you. From the Trinity College survey you can start to get a better understanding about how wellbeing, and mental health issues in particular, are much more common for organisations than you might think. The survey also highlights that the situation is also quite challenging for some people in the aviation workforce.
To help understand the wellbeing challenges in aviation at the various stages of the pandemic, the team in the Lived Experienced Wellbeing Project at Trinity College, Dublin have now performed a second survey on aviation worker wellbeing and have compared it with the results from earlier in the pandemic.
A total of 1,172 aviation professionals responded to the survey, 48% of which were pilots and 73% of all respondents were working for commercial airlines. Around 50% of people who took part in the survey had seen their work situation change during the pandemic – highlighting the additional challenges brought about by the pandemic. You can read the full report here <insert link>, and find the key takeaways here:
- A decrease in wellbeing of aviation professionals in all job roles during the shutdown and return to work.
- Considerable challenges with financial security that has a knock on effect on wellbeing.
- Many personnel in the industry have been impacted by an increase in fatigue, which was also identified in the EASA Safety Issues analysis.
- Skill fade, something also identified in the Safety Issues analysis. This is also subject to considerable work across the industry and will be one of the focus areas in the coming months.
- Reduced focus on, or prioritisation of safety and human factors by the organisations, due to financial challenges in the industry – this was added as a new Safety Issue in the updated EASA analysis.
- Trust is necessary but is not a given which reduces the uptake of existing wellbeing programmes.
As you can see from the list of takeaways above, many of these are important safety issues that pose a risk to the industry. As more organisations work on wellbeing in aviation there is a growing understanding about how effective wellbeing programmes can help at both an operational level within the organisation and also for individuals as well.
Hopefully, this article has helped give you a better understanding about what wellbeing is and also what it isn’t. If you have been inspired to do more in your organisation you will find the follow up articles really useful to help with the key next steps:
- Getting buy in from your strategic leaders by helping them understand the business benefits.
- Helping your operational managers to understand their role in promoting wellbeing as a key enabler for safe operations.
- Understand what resources are available for individuals so they can practice self-care.
 At this point it is important to say that if you are in any way concerned about how you are feeling you should refer to a relevant specialist for help and assistance. The material presented here as part of the Together4Safety work on wellbeing is intended to help raise understanding of the topic and to support implementation of wellbeing strategies within organisations or to help your day-to-day self-care as an individual. The material is not an alternative to professional help in any of the areas presented.