Yorkshire Water provides mental health first aid within occupational health package


Water supply and treatment organisation Yorkshire Water is rolling out in-house, mandatory mental health first aid training among its 3,700 employees, including managers and directors, in order to give staff and leaders greater confidence in addressing concerns at work.

The two-day, face-to-face courses were first implemented in March 2015 and form part of the organisation’s occupational health provision. The twice monthly sessions involve up to 16 members of staff and are delivered by a Mental Health First Aid England qualified member of Yorkshire Water’s internal occupational health team.

The organisation opted to focus specifically on mental health support after internal research in 2013, which looked at sickness absence management information and occupational health referrals, pinpointed this as one of the key causes of sickness absence, alongside musculoskeletal issues.

Susan Gee, group occupational health and wellbeing manager at Yorkshire Water, says: “[It is] part of our wellbeing strategy. [We] want people to work here and offer their skill and talent and time, but we shouldn’t be a detriment to their life in doing so, either physically or psychologically.

“We want our managers to fully understand the range of issues that might be presented in the workplace in terms of mental health and how they will support people.”

Since March 2015, 700 employees have completed the training, including 310 managers, and sessions are still being arranged for the remainder of the workforce. Between March 2015 and February 2019 there has been a 48% reduction in the number of occupational health referrals to counselling.

In February 2019, Yorkshire Water started to perform refresher courses for staff who have already completed the training. “There’s one reservoir that we must keep completely and utterly full and working at its optimum, and that’s our reservoir of talent, our people,” says Gee. “Without our people, we don’t have a business. For me, it’s a no-brainer to invest in people. [We] invest in them, they sustain the business. The [organisation has] shown real dedication and commitment and we intend to continue this.”

Yorkshire Water also runs a Slimming World initiative to aid employees with their diet as part of its efforts to address overall wellbeing as part of its occupational health provision. The organisation’s initial 12-week programme ran in January 2018, where 73 employees lost a total of 88 stone. The programme re-commenced in January 2019.

Gee concludes: “The whole wellbeing piece has gone from that aspirational, nice-to-do to actually being serious about embedding wellbeing plans into business strategy. It’s no longer a fluffy, nice thing to do. Having a proper, thought-out wellbeing strategy that includes and incorporates occupational health is a fairly recent phenomenon.”