Chairman, Headtorch: Positive Workplace Mental Health
5 minute read
Paul Douglas is Vice President of Volvo Construction Equipment and Managing Director of Rokbak (formally Terex Trucks). They manufacture VERY BIG trucks for the construction and mining industries.
Paul engaged with Headtorch in June 2019 to provide workplace mental health consultancy and learning & development for his team.
Headtorch worked with every level within the company with tailored solutions for each group.
This interview explores why Volvo looked for help, what was done and the results.
1) Tell us a bit about yourself and your role at Volvo.
Paul Douglas: “I chose to go into Engineering as I had a passion for making things and how they work. I began my career in Terex and have been in this industry my whole career.
I’ve had several different roles: Engineering, Product Strategy, and Aftermarket leadership. I’ve been in my current role for over 10 years.”
2) When and why did you first recognise that it was important to support your colleagues’ mental health?
“It was over 3 years ago, we had an organisation do some events on suicide awareness. What surprised me was the attendance. We had to ask them to do several sessions because the interest was so high. Afterwards, the organisation advised that quite a lot of our team had approached them to get advice on their own issues, or concerns they had for family and friends. This prompted me to look deeper into mental health.”
3) How have you approached this?
“We began with no knowledge. We looked around for organisations who could support us. Scottish Engineering and our local authority were offering seminars. We attended these and really got our eyes opened to how broad and deep this subject is, and how little we knew.
It was through these initial feelers that we came across Headtorch.
A flexible and adaptable approach was very important, Headtorch had different solutions that met our needs. We began with consultation with the senior team, then up-skilled line managers, before raising awareness with people on the shop floor.”
4) You made the decision to take action when business was quiet, that must have taken a lot of confidence. Why did you choose then?
“It’s funny but on reflection we weren’t doing it because business was slow – that’s more coincidence. I felt that this was so important we had to engage and get something moving – even small steps in the right direction had to start almost straight away.
Being quieter helped with the availability of the team. Some people, even the unions, questioned if business was slow, why were we investing in training? With hindsight it’s easy to say every penny was well spent – if it helped just one of our team, it was worth every penny.
We didn’t just dip our toe in the water, we committed – you’re either all in or you’re not.
You can’t put a value on human life and people feeling good.”
5) How was the learning and development received by what is a male dominated workforce in heavy manufacturing?
“This was the biggest surprise – engagement was incredible. The training and the follow-on development were extremely well received.
The rumour mill started – “been on that course, it’s a real eye opener.” The unions also picked it up quickly and put out very positive signals.
The Team were fully engaged and were very supportive. It was clear that without ever asking about it, they were all very keen to be involved and learn more about the subject, either for themselves, family or friends.”
6) What difference has this made over the past 18 months?
“It wasn’t just the awareness that interested us, it was the opportunities that came from it that were a real eye opener.
There are many examples all the time, every week. We are much more comfortable talking about mental health than we are on some other things in the business. None of us knew the pandemic was coming – and I cannot think there’s ever been a time when people’s mental health was under so much pressure.
Our journey has put us in a much better place, and we’re better equipped to deal with some of the issues arising – don’t get me wrong we’re far from expert at this, but at least our awareness level has increased.
Even the smallest steps – that everyone knows it’s OK not to be OK, and we’re all there to listen and support. These were the biggest help for all of us.
When a burly welder stops our HSE Manager (who just happens to be female) to have a chat about a small mental health issue he was having, this speaks volumes about how far we’ve come.
On top of that, it seems strange talking about finance and mental health in the same breath, but the financial model was a shock. Payback was almost instant, and I’m talking months here – we automatically became more productive!
The key is that the training investment, which might put organisations off, was recovered very quickly.”
7) You stated that you’ve come through the pandemic as a strong team. Could you expand on this?
“We focussed on People, Customers and Processes.
People – this was the most important area and where Mental Health, Attitude and Communications were crucial.
Mental Health – through our training, we actively listened for any mental health issues, making support available to all the team, and making every attempt to keep going on our mental health awareness journey.
Communications – we had to stay in touch, listen, advise, and keep the team clear on what was happening and what they needed. Comms was hugely important. We even sent letters to make sure we were reaching everybody.
Attitude – most of the team really stepped up. We wanted everyone to retain a real positive attitude, that we would get through this safely and come out the other side in a better way. Of course, there were some negative issues – furlough jealousy for example.
Customers – they’re still working and needed our products and services. We had to figure out new ways to be there for them.
Processes – we had to create new, safe, and hygienic ways for our team to work. This was a big challenge and the team once again delivered.”
8) Do you see lasting change and what difference will this make for the business?
“Yes, almost everybody in the organisation is comfortable with mental health and it’s engrained in our culture.
As I said before the payback was almost instant, the team has benefited greatly, and the productivity gains are lasting.”
9) Where do you see the business being on the mental health journey?
“We’re still at the beginning, not the beginning of the beginning, maybe in the first third. I don’t even think there’s an end, it’s a journey that continues.
I want to emphasise that the choice of partner for Mental Health Training & Awareness makes a huge difference.
As the leader I set the tone, it’s got to be the most important aspect of making lasting change, it keeps going.
I’m super stoked about this stuff.”
More information on Headtorch here