Creating a Healthier Workplace Through MHFA – Donna Thistlethwaite

When superannuation fund, QSuper, decided to introduce an internal network of Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAiders) in early 2020, they had no idea how perfect their timing would turn out to be. Less than two months later Covid-19 threw the world, workplaces and workers into turmoil. Never has it been more valuable to have people in your team who understand mental illness and who can confidently recognise and support a struggling colleague or customer.

QSuper’s objective for introducing Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) was to enhance the psychological safety of their workforce and to create a positive culture around mental health, both of which are key components of achieving a healthy workplace.

A large number of their staff directly support the organisation’s members who can sometimes be experiencing significant life challenges. When customers are doing it tough, this can have a flow-on effect on the compassionate staff who support them. These frontline staff can also bear the brunt of some member’s negative emotions and it can sometimes be hard not to take these interactions personally or to forget them when the call ends. Accordingly, member-facing teams were seen as a high priority and the majority of their leaders and many team members trained as Mental Health First Aiders.

But the organisation didn’t stop there. Through a combination of leader recommendations and expressions of interest, they identified staff who would suit the role of an MHFAider and have now trained more than 5% of their workforce in these important skills. To meet Covid restrictions the training was delivered through MHFA’s Blended Workplace course – a combination of engaging eLearning and face to face (videoconference) sessions with MHFA instructor, Donna Thistlethwaite.

The network has been established and the MHFAiders are promoted via the company’s intranet site. “We love that there is another avenue to complement our employee assistance program,” says Workplace Relations Adviser, Annina Perdacher. “Sometimes they just feel like talking to ‘Suzie’ rather than their leader, or a total stranger, and Suzie’s now equipped to assist and to guide them to ongoing support”.

Annina says that one of the benefits of the MHFA training has been that the MHFAiders have become champions of mental health and wellbeing across the business. They have been instrumental in educating the workforce and in breaking down stigma. They regularly speak at Town Hall and team meetings and are contributing to wellbeing initiatives in the business such as the introduction of volunteering.

Through community of practice meetings and a dedicated Teams Channel, the MHFAiders have also been supporting each other by sharing ideas and resources.

“We are extremely happy with our decision to invest in MHFA”, reports Marissa Heggie, HR & Workplace Relations Manager. “The MHFA conversation model supports wellbeing conversations across the business and has also been used to support conversations about change that might affect an employee”.

QSuper is now in the process of seeking recognition under the MHFA Skilled Workplace Program which celebrates organisations which embed the MHFA program into their culture.

If you would like to explore how MHFA could benefit your organisation, please contact Donna on 0419 120 601 or donna@donnaspeaks.com.au today.

Donna Thistlethwaite is a Brisbane-based speaker and trainer specialising in mental health and resilience. She is an accredited Mental Health First Aid Instructor and Resilience at Work Facilitator with a passion for suicide prevention and for helping individuals, teams and organisations to THRIVE. You can find out about her next Mental Health First Aid courses here.

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