When the COVID-19 lockdown began across Aotearoa, many of us found ourselves abruptly working from home. The impact of lockdown on people’s mental health and wellbeing has been an especially important concern for employers during this time. The Health and Safety team at Terra Cat – New Zealand’s Caterpillar dealer for machinery, parts, service and solutions with 17 branches across the country – knew they had to think quickly to support their 539 employees.

By providing team members with Psychological First Aid (PFA) courses through New Zealand Red Cross, Terra Cat is helping build organisational and community resilience, and people’s capacity to respond to traumatic events.

Terra Cat employees in Christchurch attended a PFA webinar ahead of Mental Health Awareness Week

“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, Terra Cat’s health and safety advisor.

New Zealand Red Cross already provides first aid courses to Terra Cat. Like first aid – where the first responder helps someone who is injured until emergency services or other help arrives – 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.

“We suggested our senior leaders and branch managers do the Psychological First Aid (PFA) course. We already had a relationship with New Zealand Red Cross and knew its one-hour PFA webinar would help prepare our leaders to support their teams through this emotional and stressful time.”

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.

"We wanted to give [people] 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," says Andrew.

After the PFA courses, Andrew heard back from leaders who’d applied what they had 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.”

“While our workforce is increasingly diverse, the bulk of our team are men in technical roles,” describes Andrew. “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.”

However, Andrew says it can be uncomfortable for people to have these conversations, so the PFA course assists leaders with taking away these barriers to having productive conversations and creating supportive and positive change.

Terra Cat has now included PFA within its first aid standard. Ahead of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, the organisation held another four PFA webinars for employees to attend. Now that COVID-19 Alert Level 4 lockdown has ended, team members can attend the webinars together on site, with colleagues in other locations easily connecting to the online course as well.

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