Mental health is a significant issue across society and within every workplace. According to health authorities, almost half of all Australian adults will experience mental illness at some point in their life while a record number of New Zealanders are accessing specialist mental health and addiction services.

Ventia has many different support options available to help with mental health concerns, but if someone isn't sure what's available or how to access it, then it can make them feel alone and unsupported.

We wanted to tap into the power of personal connection at Ventia by creating a mental health peer support network - the Healthy Minds Champions.

We put the call out across the business to ask for volunteers and the response was overwhelming.

The next step was to filter over 100 applicants down to the final 60 that would be trained to support their colleagues, and this is where we called in our talent engagement business - Skout Solutions.

Our specialist team at Skout Solutions provide organisations with talent they need to grow and the people that allow them to thrive through tailored recruitment solutions. They were also perfectly positioned to help ensure the right people were placed into our Healthy Minds Champions program.

Talent Acquisition Manager Kalu James coordinated the team that managed this process, and says it was one of the most satisfying initiatives she's been involved in.

"Everyone in the team that participated said it was a pleasure to be involved in this," Kalu says.

The stories we heard from applicants around why they wanted to be a Healthy Minds Champion really showed us how many kind, caring people there are in the Ventia business.

Group Executive Safety, Health, Environment & Quality Christian Frost says that Healthy Minds Champions help us to deliver on our commitment to raise awareness, reduce stigma and support those with mental health conditions.

"Supporting our workers through mental health conditions is not only the right thing to do," Christian says. "It helps individuals build self-esteem and coping skills, it creates a more productive workforce and it enables us to retain our skilled and experienced employees."

The process

The first step in the process involved understanding who was going to be best placed to deal with issues that may arise as they support their colleagues.

"Champions may be privy to sensitive information as part of the support they'll provide," Kalu says. "It's important to know that our Champion can keep confidences, is empathetic but also that they know when something needs to be escalated to a manager or to P&C."

The next step was interviewing each of the candidates. Kalu says many of those interviewed had a lot of mentoring experience, which was helpful. They'd also often worked with their communities or colleagues in the past, providing support during difficult times.

"We had candidates who'd been actively supporting people during the bushfires at the start of 2020, and of course during the toughest parts of the COVID pandemic this year."

The 60 successful candidates undertake two full days of training so that they can understand the signs and symptoms of mental health issues in the workplace and know what services and support to refer employees to. Healthy Minds Champions will not replace our Employee Assistance Program or other professional mental health services.

Champions will also be asked to actively promote the services we offer to their teams so that everyone is aware of how they can get help when needed.

I am so pleased I was involved in something that is clearly going to be so beneficial for the business," Kalu says.

Christian says that Ventia is looking to recruit more Healthy Minds Champions in 2021 and will continue to support the current cohort with training throughout the year.

Skout Solutions recently celebrated their fourth anniversary, after being formed as a joint venture in 2016.