Size: 500-999 staff
Industry: Professional, Scientific and Technical Services
Aurecon is an engineering, design, and advisory company, but not as you know it. We’ve reimagined engineering. In 2020, the Australian Financial Review named us Australasia’s most innovative company and most innovative professional services company. We work alongside our clients to co-create innovative solutions to some of the world’s most complex challenges, adding value across the project lifecycle through deep technical and advisory expertise. Our 5790 staff have worked on projects in over 80 countries across Africa, Asia Pacific and the Middle East. In New Zealand, we have 800+ people over five offices in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Tauranga, and Hamilton.
In the fast paced and complex engineering industry, burnout, fatigue, and mental health challenges are very real risks, so international engineering and advisory firm Aurecon recognised the need for a targeted mental health strategy to support its employee’s wellbeing. The result is Mind Matters, a thoroughly modern wellbeing strategy which leverages technology, storytelling, and authentic leadership to educate and engage employees around mental health and destigmatise mental health challenges. The strategy has continually evolved in response to the changing face of the world of work – providing connectivity and support for staff during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.
Background on situation and opportunity
Engineering is a complex and fast paced industry that attracts a high calibre of people. We recognise that this environment may place our people at an elevated risk of burnout, fatigue, and other mental health challenges, so four years ago Aurecon developed the Mind Matters strategy to address these risks. Our aim is to provide mental health awareness education for all staff and destigmatise mental health challenges. As the Covid-19 pandemic and associated shift to remote and hybrid working has brought about new challenges, including isolation and disconnection, we have evolved our strategy to respond to these.
In 2015, Aurecon’s global business surveyed our people to understand how they felt about work and their self-evaluation of their mental health status. We used the results of this survey to inform the development of our Australia and New Zealand Mind Matters Strategy. The aspiration of the strategy is to provide mental health awareness education to all staff and educate Line Managers to identify and directly support mental health issues in others. Aurecon New Zealand has adapted the Mind Matters Strategy to the unique nuances of our business and our people. Importantly, we have evolved the strategy to respond to the changing face of the world of work – providing support for people wherever and whenever they are working. Mind Matters takes a holistic approach, addressing four areas of mental health: • Mental wellbeing • Physical wellbeing • Work wellbeing • Social wellbeing The main components of the strategy are • Removing stigma around mental health challenges through education • Access to mental health resources hub on Aurecon intranet • Visible leadership • Proactive EAP sessions for all staff in response to projected stressful or challenging situations • Dedicated Covid-19 resource hub to provide specific support for people during the disconnection and uncertainty of the pandemic. At the heart of the programme is the integration of Mental Health First Aid Officers into the business. Research into leading practice for mental health revealed that on-the-ground support would have the most significant and positive impact for Line Managers and their staff. Importantly, the Mind Matters strategy reflects the way that our people work now –encompassing work from home and the office. All training sessions can be accessed online via Teams and all resources can be accessed from home.
The strategy has been delivered under four main pillars: • Reflects the modern world of work: Aurecon already operated a flexible working model, but 2020 transformed the way we define the modern workplace. We now assume the same level of responsibility for our people’s home working environment as their office environment or project office. Our working environment directly impacts our mental wellbeing, so Aurecon has an online platform where our people can access equipment they need to work remotely, virtual and face-to-face ergonomic assessments, and resources around physical activity and nutrition. • Proactive use of EAP While EAP is standard business practice, it is typically used reactively. Aurecon has proactively identified situations where there might be additional stress (e.g. the tragic loss of three engineers from other consultants who many of our people knew personally) and bring in EAP to provide education and normalise speaking to a professional. We have engaged EAP to run sessions on topics such as managing workload and burnout. • Mental Health First Aiders Our Mental Health First Aiders provide reactive support to staff, as well as visible leadership in relation to mental wellbeing through storytelling. The programme is also part of our wider goal to build mental health literacy within the business. Training is available to all employees, which in an organisation driven by utilisation demonstrates our commitment to our people’s mental wellbeing. We have now achieved our goal to have 20% of the workforce as trained Mental Health First Aiders. Destigmatising mental health concerns and seeking support • Our aim is to normalise speaking to counsellors and removing barriers to doing so. While officially 3 EAP sessions are available to each employee per year, additional sessions are always offered without having to request this. Webinars, mental health resources and counselling services are also available to employees’ family members.
Engagement and communication
Mind Matters has been brought to life in a range of ways: Storytelling From dedicated sessions for graduates to candid shares from our NZ Managing Director, we have used storytelling at all levels of the business to build engagement. This authenticity has been valued by our people, and really opened the conversation around mental health. NZ Managing Director Tracey Ryan has been an active sponsor and led with authenticity by sharing her experiences during an EAP Session on Loss and Grief. An Associate also bravely shared his mental health struggles, including his concerns that this might hinder his ability to become a Principal/Owner. These conservations are critical to destigmatising mental health challenges. Building mental health literacy within our young professionals has been a key goal. At our Lifelime event, hosted by our emerging professionals’ group, Mental Health First Aiders shared their personal mental health experiences to demonstrate that it is okay not to be okay. Technology Technology has been core to our strategy, enabling us to engage with our people wherever and whenever they are working. During the Covid-19 lockdown, technology took on an even higher level of importance as really the only way to connect. We have leveraged technology in a range of ways: • Panel discussions on Teams • Online session with EAP works • Dedicated mental health and Covid-19 resource hubs on our intranet • Online hub dedicated to the new world of work Of course, while technology is important, in times of difficulty, what we really need is connection with another human being. Our Mental Health First Aiders and Health and Safety Committees provide vital reactive support to people when they need it, as well as visible leadership. We have also engaged Mates in Construction to provide training for our people to ensure we are part of industry-wide conversations.
Since Mind Matters’ launch in 2015, there have been dramatic advances in our mental health strategy and the visibility of mental health within the business. We have progressed from a one-off celebration of R U OK today to a rich, contextual, encompassing culture around the way we communicate and share stories about mental health. A key success has been removing barriers to use of EAP. Reports showed less than 10% of staff used the service in 2020, compared to 33% in 2021. Two-thirds of those sessions have been used for personal rather than work-related concerns. Interest in our Mental Health First Aid programme has rapidly grown, with 10 First Aiders in 2020 and 35 in 2021. Our work is also being recognised outside Aurecon. Our Health and Safety Advisor Gareth Beck was recently interviewed on TVNZ’s Breakfast about destigmatising mental health challenges and building a Mental Health First Aid community of practice. We knew that to be sustainable, our strategy could not be solely the responsibility of the Health and Safety Team, it needed to be driven by our people themselves. Employees are taking ownership of mental health initiatives, e.g., the Lifelime event on mental wellbeing for our emerging professionals’ group was developed by our graduates themselves. Employees are now organising an event around Working Parent Guilt, which will be entirely self-managed. Aurecon’s staff engagement survey measures factors influencing mental wellbeing, such as the ability to manage work and other commitments and feeling genuinely cared for by managers. All measures were evaluated positively both pre, during and post pandemic. Our 12 online events have been well attended, with 60-130 people attending each session. Over the last 12 months more than 1000 of our people have attended these sessions.
We knew that to be successful, our mental health strategy needed to be inclusive and resonate with everyone in our business, so we have leveraged storytelling to engage staff. Mental Health First Aiders and senior leaders have openly shared their experiences at company-wide events. Ensuring diversity in the content of these stories and in the people who tell them provides a visible symbol that anyone can be affected by a mental health challenge and that it is safe to seek support. Ensuring everyone feels comfortable to be themselves and bring their full selves to work is a critical aspect of mental wellbeing. Aurecon has an award-winning Diversity and Inclusion strategy, including visible support for LGBTI+ inclusion, flexible working policies and celebration of different cultures to ensure everyone has a sense of belonging. For one of our Mental Health First Aiders, Aurecon’s visible celebration of LGBTI+ inclusion enabled her to be herself at work, removing the stress of self-editing and improving her mental health. The ability to balance work with caring and other responsibilities outside of work has a direct impact on our mental wellbeing. Aurecon’s approach to flexible working provides flexibility for everyone in every role - without the need to give a reason nor seek permission. Aurecon also provides the infrastructure to support this – meetings and events can be attended virtually, and Aurecon provides the technology and wellbeing support needed to work successfully from home. We are working with Māori leaders within the business to ensure Te Reo and te Ao Māori are incorporated into mental health resources and events. Earlier this year Aurecon sought external support to develop a Māori Cultural Strategy. Early implementation has included planning cultural and language training and commissioning Aurecon’s first waiata. Building cultural safety is critical foundation step to positive mental health.
Innovation and creativity
We have taken an intentionally experimental approach to our mental health strategy, continually trialling and adapting as our people’s and business needs change. For example, during the Covid-19 Level 4 lockdown, we ran a Teams Live session which allowed us to connect with our people in the only way possible, where they could anonymously ask questions. Although Teams Live is now business as usual, at the time it was innovative and new. Leveraging technology has enabled us to connect with our people across each of our locations and find innovative ways to tell stories, through education sessions, panel discussions and Q&As. During Mental Health week we convened sessions for staff online, including an online screening of the Girl on the Bridge and a virtual panel with Aurecon’s Acting Group Health and Safety Manager, the former CE of the Association of Consulting Engineers, one of our Mental Health First Aiders and an Aurecon owner/senior leader on developing a mentally healthy workplace. We have also run sessions with EAP Works (now RAISE) on topics including: • Resilience • Loss and grief • Managing burnout • Managing workload • Reconnecting displaced teams • Managing mental health for managers. We received feedback that our people shared the EAP Sessions with family and friends during lockdown, extending our influence beyond Aurecon. We have run other panels on issues impacting mental health, including Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, balancing working and caring responsibilities, and accessibility. Recognising that we don’t have all the skills to deliver a mental health strategy for all situations, we have leveraged partners to bring in innovative delivery approaches, e.g., Tracksuit for our wellbeing resources platform and RAISE for education sessions. The challenges we are facing – increasing pressure and the changing world of work - are also impacting our clients, so we are connecting with some of them to share learnings.
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Victoria McArthur, CEO (Mates in Construction)
0272185755 • [email protected]
Gareth Beck, Health and Safety Advisor (Aurecon)
0223549709 • [email protected]