Creating a mentally healthy workplace at ECTARC
Learn how ECTARC, a service and training provider in Wollongong, supports staff wellbeing and how this impacts the organisation and communities it works with.
21 July 2023
ECTARC is a community owned, not-for-profit organisation that manages 11 early childhood education and care (ECEC) services in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven. ECTARC is also a registered training organisation and delivers training for early childhood education and care professionals across Australia.
ECTARC recognises that its staff are the organisation’s most valuable asset and wants to ensure they feel supported. “We understand that when we support staff wellbeing, it not only has a positive impact on the individual but also their team, the organisation as a whole, and the children and families that person works with,” Kathryn Barker, Early Childhood Manager - Services of ECTARC shared.
The organisation is committed to creating and maintaining a mentally healthy workplace. It strives to achieve this by implementing safe psychological work practices and promoting a positive work culture where everyone feels supported and valued.
Putting a plan into action
ECTARC developed an organisation-wide mental health and wellbeing strategy in 2018, after an early childhood service manager was inspired to strengthen wellbeing-focused strategies for staff across the organisation.
To prepare for the project, ECTARC consulted employees, reviewed relevant data and research, and identified needs and priority areas of action. It also created a mental health and wellbeing action plan, drawing inspiration from a guide developed by Heads Up, an online platform focusing on mental health in the workplace that has since been incorporated into Beyond Blue's Work and mental health page.
The strategy was then developed to achieve these goals. “We felt an important first step for our organisation was to ensure that all employees had a common language and shared understanding of mental health and wellbeing,” shared Kathryn. To do this, ECTARC allocated time for all staff to complete the Black Dog Institute’s ‘Managing for Team Wellbeing’ and ‘Your Mental Health at Work’ training programs. The training is free for eligible businesses and part of a NSW Government initiative to create mentally health workplaces across the state.
ECTARC’s Wellbeing Champion Network is a key element of the organisation’s mental health and wellbeing strategy. Staff from across its ECEC services, training arm and head office who share an interest in wellbeing make up the network. They have been fundamental in implementing and promoting the strategy to ensure the wellbeing program reaches all employees.
Although they undergo training on how to support colleagues, members of the network aren’t expected to act as mental health counsellors for fellow ECTARC employees. Rather, their role is to act as mental health ambassadors and encourage colleagues to use a wellbeing-focused mindset in their workplace and the work they do.
The Wellbeing Champion Network meets quarterly to share resources, activities and ideas, discuss new initiatives and participate in training delivered by experts like Be You, a national mental health in education initiative led by Beyond Blue. They also reflect on ECTARC’s wellbeing goals and achievements to date, as well as strategies for continuing to strengthen individual, team and organisational wellbeing throughout the business.
Initiatives to support strategy
ECTARC actively promotes and encourages staff to mark mental health and wellbeing awareness days, like R U Ok?Day. Service staff, children and families are all encouraged to participate in planned events and activities, or access resources and tools made available.
Sharing messages of gratitude is also a priority for the organisation. It regularly publishes articles about the benefits of expressing gratitude and quotes from staff on what they are grateful for in its weekly staff bulletin. Services also encourage staff to share gratitude messages in the communal staff diary and during staff meetings and some services have a gratitude tree in their foyer and invite children, families and visitors to add messages to the tree.
ECTARC is committed to doing regular mental health and wellbeing check-ins with staff via an annual survey and adapting their action plan as needed. It uses the free People at Work tool, a validated and evidence-based psychosocial risk assessment survey tool, which is funded by Australian work health and safety regulators. The online platform helps organisations better identify, assess and manage psychosocial hazards in the workplace.
“Last year we had 93.72% of all employees respond to the survey with results showing ECTARC is performing well against the Australian benchmark with positive results returned,” Kathryn shared. “This demonstrates that our mental health and wellbeing strategy is working. However, the emotional demand of the work we do has been raised as a current priority requiring further action.”
In response to this, ECTARC has strengthened internal resources to support staff in this area. “This has included things such as developing an understanding of vicarious trauma across the organisation, promoting staff to have regular check-ins with leaders and sharing self-care techniques,” she added. Vicarious trauma refers to the impact ongoing exposure to another person’s traumatic experiences can have on your mental health and wellbeing.
All employees also have access to ECTARC’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
“At Clipper Road, we believe it is of the upmost importance that we have the wellbeing program, because if we didn't have each colleague checking in on one another and the services that ECTARC provide us (e.g. EAP), we wouldn't be here for our children.” Rebekah Doyle, Wellbeing Champion, ECTARC Clipper Road."
Support for services
There is a wealth of information and helpful resources available online for services that would like to better support their team’s mental health and wellbeing. “A great place to start is joining Be You, which allows access to their resources and starting a conversation with a Be You consultant,” advised Kathryn. Other resources ECTARC have used and recommend include: