HR Director Hayley Vince shares how she has used Mental Health First Aid training to help create an open culture about mental health and wellbeing at work.

HR director getting MHFA Training from
HR Director Hayley Vince shares how she’s used MHFA in Ascent Flight training

Three years ago, Hayley Vince began to take steps to normalise conversations about mental health at Ascent Flight Training.

As part of that project, she and other members of the team undertook Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training. They now have a cohort of 14 MHFA trained Wellbeing Champions across multiple sites.

Here, she explains more about how the training helped to foster a more open culture and change attitudes about mental health and wellbeing at work…

Why did you want to have this training within your business?

We wanted to promote wellbeing and drive a culture of people bringing their full self to work. We want our staff to feel that they can be their authentic self and feel supported by the business and their line managers to talk about any issues.

There was a view that maybe some mental health challenges weren’t being discussed at work and possibly being disguised as a physical health issue, and we wanted to have a culture where people feel able to be more open.

Our business is male dominated (78%) and while our sickness level is low, my concern was that when people were having time off ill, they weren’t feeling comfortable to open up about what was really going on.

A lot of our colleagues are ex-military and may be dealing with past traumas that can sometimes be brought back to the present when something happens in the world, such as the Afghanistan war.We wanted to give people the tools and confidence to talk to us if they feel triggered by anything.

Ultimately, we wanted to make mental wellbeing as equal as physical wellbeing, in terms of people being open and honest.

In your role as a HR Director, how has this training helped you to support your team and normalise the conversation around mental health?

We’ve got Wellbeing Champions who have gone through the training with Andy. We’ve also done ‘Engage and Learn’ sessions with Andy on different topics, such as loss and bereavement, which build on the wellbeing challenges we can all face.

We’ve also driven the sharing of personal stories across the business, starting with the leadership team talking about their wellbeing challenges, having written testimonials, and sessions where people can ask them questions. That has really helped with driving this culture of openness.

How does MHFA training fit in to your wellbeing strategy overall and your responsibility to look after the people in your business?

It gives people the confidence that there are trained people within the team who can help to point them towards the different resources available internally, such as the Employee Assistance Programme, and externally, such as specific support organisations.

It’s helped to reassure the business that there are points of contact across our sites who can support our employees.

There’s definitely been a shift in attitude towards wellbeing, and I think a big reason for that is because the leadership team have come forward, opened up and shared their own stories.

We also have a Diversity and Inclusion colleague who is driving this forward, and not having this project solely led by the HR team is also key.

People definitely feel it’s okay to talk about concerns and issues and, having a predominantly male workforce, it’s been good to have male role models both internally and with Andy, leading the way and showing that it’s okay for men to open up about this.

What changes, if any, have you made in how you support the team after doing the training?

We have quarterly wellbeing meetings attended by the Wellbeing Champions, and the first question we ask is about how people are personally doing, so that they feel as if they have a support network and it gives us a chance to check in with each other.

We also have a confidential record of wellbeing conversations so we can see what impact being a champion is having on people’s jobs. Every six months our Wellbeing Champions report back to the leadership team about what’s been happening and what support they need going forward, and it’s really key to have sponsorship at that level.

We have Engage and Learn sessions on things such as loss and bereavement, and we had one with a GP discussing menopause. We’re trying to bring up different challenges people might face in their physical and mental health and give people information and advice to navigate through them.

Every month there’s a different wellbeing theme throughout the business, such as this month it’s all about being connected, and we give the team different tools and techniques around that topic.

We have questions on our people survey about how people perceive wellbeing and what else we could be doing.

It’s all seen as very positive, it’s a proactive approach that really shows people how much we care.

What did you get out of the training on a personal level?

It was a really good reminder of the different organisations that are out there to support people with mental health and wellbeing challenges. The manual is really useful because it has an index of where to signpost people to, because it’s important to remember that MHFA training doesn’t turn you into a mental health professional.

Our people do recognise that they’re not there to fix their colleagues with wellbeing challenges, all we can do is support them and signpost them to further help where necessary.

What we do in HR is have conversations, help people to open up and listen to their concerns, and the training was good to reinforce those skills.

Training for winch crew on Rotary wing

Would you recommend the training with Andy, and why?

Absolutely. Andy has lots of energy and personal experience which for us with a large number of ex-military staff and the nature of the work we do (flight training for the MoD), our team could really relate to his personal experience, so he was very credible and relatable.

He’s extremely personable and got great feedback from our team, and we still work with him to deliver some of our Engage and Learn sessions.

If you’d like to learn more about how Mental Health First Aid training could support your wellbeing strategy and the way you look after your team, get in touch: