Mia Handshin: South Australia poised to become world leader in creating ways to enhance well-being

Holden Factory
For those who mourn the decline of manufacturing in SA, especially Holden, I am also truly sad for our loss. But, we are still building stuff here. Important stuff, writes Mia Handshin.

GROWING up I learned a lot about leadership from General Motors Holden. And my grandfather Max Handshin. At home, he was a quirky man with some eccentricities.

But for several years in the 1970’s, he held prominent roles as Mechanical Manufacturing Manager and Plant Manager at GMH’s Woodville factory. Stories about Max’s approach sank into my psyche and taught me what good leadership looks like.

Fundamentally, it involves looking. At people. In the eye.

During Max’s career GMH employed approximately 10,000. He managed between 1000 and 3000 in the factory. Legend has it that, each day, without fail, he walked the factory floor.

Despite having a fancy office overlooking operations, he preferred to be respectfully eye to eye with his team. He knew many by name and family circumstance, aided by a “filing cabinet” like memory. He listened to their stories. Cared about their wellbeing.

For those who mourn the decline of manufacturing in SA, especially Holden, I am also truly sad for our loss. But, we are still building stuff here. Important stuff, writes Mia Handshin.

They achieved excellent productivity. Relationship was central. My relationship with Holden’s legacy in this state is but one of thousands, narrated over decades.

We are all acutely attuned to the looming factory closure. There will be significant loss in this. For the remaining workers and their families, and our state. Although, there is good leadership in it, too.

Both Holden and the Government have done a really decent job of looking people in the eye about it. Over some years.

Supporting workers to find new opportunities in the loss. For one, through resilience training delivered by the state’s Wellbeing and Resilience Centre, which is based at the SA Medical Health and Research Institute (SAMHRI).

The task of helping people to prepare for change, develop the skills to cope and apply their minds creatively in response to the challenges of life may sound like warm, fuzzy stuff. It is, in fact, big business.

We now have a wellbeing index which measures the relative economic value of the stuff nationally. Last year it apparently increased by $22 billion. The alternative, mental illness, costs our nation $190 billion per year which is around 12 per cent.

A decade ago I wrote a column for this newspaper exploring the value of taking “mental health” days. Wise organisations like the RAA now call them “Wellbeing Days”.

Back then I was criticised by a prominent politician as being economically irresponsible for advocating an approach that could adversely affect the nation’s productivity. Research has since borne out that we lose nine million working days per year due to mental ill health.

And while we are losing automotive manufacturing, our state is on the cusp of a massive opportunity. A mining boom of a different kind; mining mindsets and exploring resourcefulness, in people, developing research, data, technology and new science to help the world.

SAMHRI Building
South Australia could become the forefront of developing the research, science and technology of happiness, health and wellbeing, writes Mia Handshin.

South Australia could become the forefront of developing the research, science and technology of happiness, health and wellbeing, writes Mia Handshin.

This week Premier Jay Weatherill launched H+Lab, a partnership with a prominent tech-focused Chinese company TusHoldings, and the University of Tsinghua Psychology Department.

This initiative will position SA at the forefront of developing the research, science and technology of happiness, health and wellbeing as well as supporting entrepreneurs to create the world’s most advanced tech products for improving health and happiness. Applications, eye-mind control interactive tech, new media. It’s part of the plan for making South Australia one of the first in the world to scale wellbeing across our population. To build a wellbeing industry.

How many of us respond to the question “how are you” with the standard, “busy”? Implying productivity as the key measure of value. Emphasizing survival. When we are thriving, we will answer: “Well, happy, coping with life’s challenges with ease.” Our wellbeing amplifies our productivity and creativity.

For those who mourn the decline of manufacturing in SA, especially Holden, I am also truly sad for our loss. But, we are still building stuff here. Important stuff.

And the science and technology behind it will generate both money and meaning.

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