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Case Study: MHFA and TWM at Purolator

Purolator logo

Founded in 1960, Purolator is a leading integrated freight, package, and logistics provider, delivering packages to, from, and within Canada.

With more than 14,000 employees, Purolator plays a vital role in the Canadian economy, delivering packages to some of the most remote locations in the country through its extensive network.

Case Study Highlights

Started Mental Health First Aid & The Working Mind Training: 2019
Leaders Trained So Far: 500+

The Journey Begins

Purolator has a strong history of ensuring the physical safety of its employees. In 2018, the company recognized the need to extend its robust safety culture to include mental health, and so it embarked on a journey to address mental health challenges. The first steps involved awareness campaigns and lunch-and-learn sessions, which garnered attention and appreciation from employees.

Support for the initiatives was further bolstered by the global impact of the pandemic and the psychological effects it had on Purolator’s teams. Jennifer Boyd, Director of Benefits, Retirement and Wellbeing, commented on these challenges: “We started to hear from managers that they had people on their team who were struggling. They really wanted to support them, but they didn’t know what to do,” she said.

Her team began collaborating on ways to equip leaders with the tools, skills, and knowledge to better support one another. Their search led them to Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), a program developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada that provides participants with the tools and confidence to assist someone experiencing a mental health crisis or mental health issue. “We wanted to make sure each team had someone that had adequate knowledge, expertise, and confidence to help manage mental health challenges,” Boyd explained. “We recognized that we couldn’t provide individual assistance to each employee across the country; and we saw value in investing in our leaders so every team would have baseline support.”

Purolator’s leadership, under the supportive guidance of President and CEO, John Ferguson, demonstrated a commitment to mental health from the outset. When Boyd’s team took their findings to the leadership group, they were keen to invest. The group realized the need for a comprehensive strategy that expanded beyond MHFA to provide a robust set of solutions for the organization’s overall health and wellbeing strategy.

Purolator Health

Ashley Wood-Suszko, Manager of Mental Health and Wellness at Purolator, was brought on board to help lead the organization’s broader health and wellbeing strategy.

“There was a strong foundation coming in,” Wood-Suszko noted. “When we brought our proposed mental health strategy to the leadership team, it wasn’t difficult to get buy-in. There was an honest understanding and interest to support our team members, and even greater enthusiasm when presented with the long-term benefits, including the return on investment (ROI). At Purolator, there is a culture of caring and compassion, and genuine desire to support one another.”

Wood-Suszko’s team was quick to build on the foundations already established within Purolator. Her team began collecting data, establishing relevant metrics, and visualizing the data in a dashboard to identify trends. To develop a needs-based mental health strategy, the team engaged stakeholders across the organization. For example, a Wellness Survey was designed and distributed to all employees and their family members. The survey presented insights of Purolator staff and their family members knowledge base of what programs have been helpful to them, awareness of what is available, whether they hold importance to personal wellbeing (readiness to change), how they like to receive information and what supports and resources they would like to have available in the future. In addition, key informant interviews were conducted with specific leadership team members to thoroughly understand the complexity of operations and garner further buy-in. Through the exploration of employees’ and their family members’ perspectives, combined with the value of the insights received, Purolator developed a people-first, needs-based mental health strategy.

Ensuring a data-driven and stakeholder-engagement approach, this mental health strategy and the vision of its broader initiative, entitled Purolator Health, was launched. During the preliminary stages, the Purolator Health governance structure was designed to include stakeholders and champions across disciplines to ensure multidisciplinary collaboration. It built upon Purolator’s existing strong health and safety culture to evolve into a more holistic perspective, one that included the mental, physical, and social dimensions of health and wellbeing. One of the first steps was to ensure resources and tools were diverse, inclusive, and accessible to the geographically dispersed team. Purolator continues to improve its programs, aligning these with its core values, and collect metrics to understand the effectiveness of its strategy and highlight opportunities for improvement. By supporting its most important resource – employees – the company is confident it will positively influence its customers and the communities it serves over time. 

Why We Train Our Teams in Mental Health First Aid and The Working Mind

With teams working collaboratively across the organization, Purolator implemented a comprehensive mental health strategy with four goals: increase awareness of mental health though education, empower early identification and intervention by supporting employees, provide appropriate access to care for employees and their families, and enable leaders to effectively build and sustain a psychologically safe workplace. These actions will build a foundation and culture of caring and reduce mental health stigma. To launch the mental health strategy, Purolator prioritized training and education, targeting all levels of the organization. After defining specific learning targets, the Purolator Health governance team evaluated several mental health training programs to meet the needs.

“The credibility that the Mental Health Commission brings to Opening Minds programs was a key factor in our decision to implement The Working Mind (TWM) for managers and MHFA,” said Boyd. “The fact that these programs are evidence-based and delivered by experts really makes buy-in easier from both employees and the business,” she continued.

“Our Learning and Development team put all of the potential courses through a rigorous examination process, and Opening Minds courses checked all the boxes,” Wood-Suszko explained. “These programs were perfect for our team members who wanted to gain knowledge and apply it practically to their lines of work and personal lives. We wanted the training to have a positive impact on our teams’ lives outside of the workplace as well at work,” she continued.

The MHFA training, delivered to targeted groups, proved to be incredibly helpful to all teams. Participants learned skills to recognize changes in their colleagues’ behaviour and to compassionately guide an individual to the appropriate support. In early 2022, Purolator further enhanced its strategy to include MHFA Responder roles. A MHFA Responder is the go-to person for anyone who is struggling with a mental-health-related issue. The MHFA Responder has relevant knowledge to spot someone who is struggling with their mental health, can help guide the colleague in distress to the relevant support they need and therefore intervenes prior to the situation escalating. The launch of this program began with education sessions, communication across the organization as well as a nomination process. Individuals who were nominated, and accepted taking on the role for their location, were trained and collaborated on developing a term of reference. One of Purolator’s goals is to have a network of trained MHFA responders across the organization, with at least one in each location.

Results and Feedback

These initiatives have seen a surge in demand and been met with positive feedback from participants. The training has become an integral part of the company’s culture, and town hall meetings now open with a psychological health and safety moment. Purolator remains adaptive, using data to refine programs, respond to employee needs and ensure the mental health strategy aligns with the organization’s goals and continues to evolve.

As a PhD student, Wood–Suszko is working alongside Dr. Keith Dobson to investigate the effectiveness of TWM manager training. Their aim is to use collected data to continually improve the program internally, understand if there are other tools and resources needed within Purolator, and share publicly with other organizations who are considering deployment of mental health training or development of a mental health strategy.

Purolator has also co-developed “Refresh” – a sustainability program for the consistent advancement of mental health literacy – with its partner Cleveland Clinic Canada. The program consists of virtual drop-in workshops held monthly for all graduates of TWM manager training. Workshop participants discuss broad topics such as the Mental Health Continuum and self-care, burnout and resiliency, language and conversational skills and caring for yourself and others. Initial feedback has been very supportive of this offering. It has helped in the development of additional workshops focused on de-escalation, crisis management and debriefing. Along with the positive feedback received to date, Purolator has seen a community of practice develop amongst participants.

Into the Future

Purolator’s mental health strategy is not static; it is subject to a dynamic process of continuous improvement. The organization acknowledges the need to evolve, embrace change, and maintain a focus on the most isolated individuals in the organization and their families. The historical culture of continuous improvement typically focusing on operational excellence, has extended to health and wellbeing of employee’s and the mental health strategy. It is Purolator’s ambition to ensure the strategy continues to support everyone through equitable access to resources.

Purolator’s commitment to mental health transcends the workplace, creating a ripple effect of positive change in the broader community. Through innovative programs, ongoing research, and a continued partnership with Opening Minds, Purolator aims to be an industry leader in mental health and wellbeing.

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