When the COVID-19 lockdown began across New Zealand, sending all 539 Terra Cat team members home, the company’s health and safety team knew they had to “think outside the square” to support their people.
“It was totally unchartered territory. We needed to find ways to support our team’s mental health, not just during the lockdown but also once it ended,” says Andrew Kenny, one of Terra Cat’s health and safety advisors. Terra Cat – formerly known as Gough Cat – is New Zealand’s Caterpillar dealer for machinery, parts, service and solutions with 17 branches across the country.
“We suggested our senior leaders and branch managers do the psychological first aid course. We already had a relationship with New Zealand Red Cross and knew its one-hour psychological first aid webinar would help prepare our leaders to support their teams through this emotional and stressful time.”
“We wanted to give them the tools to navigate tough conversations or situations they may face. So, rather than just jumping in to resolving an issue, we knew the course would teach them to triage a person’s needs first and refer them to the right support services and agencies.”
So, like physical health first aid – where a person provides initial aid until emergency services arrive – psychological first aid (PFA) enables people to provide practical and emotional short-term support for people in times of distress. This could be after an emergency, such as an earthquake or traumatic event, or in everyday circumstances that cause stress.
“The COVID lockdown period and economic uncertainty has created a lot of stress for people, and we also see this in the customers we support.”
Not only did the lockdown increase the need for psychological first aid, it also provided Terra Cat leaders with the space to sit at their computers for the one-hour webinar. In total, 49 managers took the course, which was followed up with emailed resources for future reference.
Andrew says the one-hour course worked for Terra Cat, as leaders were only away from their core work for a short time and it was a practical way of expressing the company’s value of care.
During the lockdown, senior leaders also phoned employees to check how they were going in their bubbles, if they had the information they needed and if there was any other support they required. With recruitment temporarily on hold, this team’s manager followed up with regular calls to employees who needed extra support.
The course also fitted into other first aid and wellbeing work the organisation offers its team and has sparked a further focus on mental health and wellbeing for team members.
“We ran some activities around Mental Health Awareness Week last year, introducing the Five Ways to Wellbeing, and we plan to build on that this year. While our workforce is increasingly diverse, the bulk of our team are men in technical roles. We want to make sure they’re not being too stoic and silent about their stresses and help them understand that if there’s something on their mind, they can talk about it.”
“Everyone has things in their lives that add to their stress or state of mind. That can affect their ability to work safely. Our most important and powerful tool is our brain, so making sure it’s fit and well is as crucial as giving the rest of our body the same attention.”
Terra Cat is part of ACC’s Accredited Employers Programme, so does its own injury management and is well aware of psychological aspect of injury recovery. “We have a saying that ‘the biggest part of recovery comes from the mind’. So, if we look after our team psychologically, the rest comes along nicely with an overall better outcome for the injured team member and for Terra Cat.”
However, Andrew says it can be uncomfortable for people to have these conversations, so the PFA course assists with taking away the barriers to leaders having productive conversations and creating supportive and positive change.
“It’s no use saying, ‘if you’re stressed go talk to your leader’ if the manager doesn’t have the skills to deal with the situation.”
Terra Cat has now included psychological first aid within its first aid standard, setting out exactly who will be trained in PFA. Andrew Kenny says supervisors and health and safety representatives are next on the list as “key partners in our branches for health and safety leadership”.
A few weeks after the course, Andrew heard back from leaders who’d applied what they’ve learned with friends and family during lockdown. “The course really resonated with them and they passed on some of what they’d learned onto others in their lives. Doing the course isn’t just about benefiting our business – it’s also about being a good corporate citizen and creating good partnerships in our communities.
“I’m sure they’ve been using it with their teams, too. We hope that what they now know becomes part of their natural way of caring and dealing comfortably with people struggling mentally and in need of support.”
Visit the Red Cross' website to out more about its psychological first aid courses.