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  • Kat Hounsell

Case study: Smurfit Kappa UK – bringing the mental health and wellbeing strategy to life

We think our clients at everyday people are pretty special. That’s why we’re proud to partner with organisations who utilise quality people development to engage their teams around a broader health & wellbeing strategy.

Move over ‘tick-box’ exercises. It’s all about holistic and meaningful approaches.

Here we shine a spotlight on Smurfit Kappa UK, FTSE 100 company and one of the leading providers of better planet paper-based packaging in the world. We share the initial challenge, the statistics, and the strategic story.

Empowering colleagues to take personal responsibility for maintaining and improving their own wellbeing is a cornerstone of our approach to Health and Safety. In reality the training we have provided means that colleagues now feel more confident to ask for help, to support one another and to signpost further appropriate help when the assistance of a supportive friend is not quite enough. It’s creating such a buzz in the business, it’s tangible.    
Trudy Rush UK HR Director

The challenge

A familiar story for the Health & Safety community, where historically the focus had predominately been on physical safety.

Growing social awareness around the significance of poor wellbeing and mental health, including its impact on physical health, led Smurfit Kappa to shift the needle and create and roll out a Well-being Strategy. This work was initially led by the HR Team, championed by Gemma Board Regional HR Manager, in collaboration with the Health & Safety team. The importance of employee well-being was highlighted at the Engagement Conference and a working party was set up with well-being as the focus. They felt strongly that an increase of presence and knowledge around the subject was required to offer appropriate support.

There was an overwhelming feeling that now was the time for change.

"What if I say the wrong thing?"

... the desire to educate Smurfit Kappa colleagues with terminology like ‘mental health’ and communicate the wellbeing support available began to form the brief for a national training initiative for leaders, H&S and HR.

The UK Corrugated Health & Wellbeing Committee wanted this training to play a key strategic role in living the Smurfit Kappa UK wellbeing promise of being committed to establishing an interdependent, safe and healthy working culture for all colleagues.

The strategy aims to:

  • Promote a range of health and wellbeing activities which focus on physical, mental and social health

  • While empowering colleagues to take personal responsibility for maintaining and improving their wellbeing

To realise an ambitious roll-out plan, they needed an agile partner who lives shared values with those of the business. In April 2019, Smurfit Kappa UK invited everyday people to support as preferred provider of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) courses. We’re honoured they got in touch.

“At Smurfit Kappa we are committed in creating and promoting a culture of positive mental health and wellbeing which is actively encouraged and visible throughout the company, this approach will impact on colleague’s physical health and many other aspects of people lives.
Many common life events such as illness, bereavement, relationship problems, and financial worries can affect our mental wellbeing. We want to support our colleagues who have to cope with the stresses such as this and help colleagues get the right level of professional help where needed.”
Nigel M Elias UK HSE Manager

The statistics

The MHFA approach was launched ahead of International Labour Organisations (ILO) World Day for Safety and Health at Work 2019.

Over the initial 7-months following the launch, a team of 14 everyday people facilitators trained 17% of the total Smurfit Kappa UK workforce in MHFA skills, including:

  • 195 Mental Health First Aiders

  • 359 Mental Health First Aid Champions (leaders)

  • With 24 sites reached

Throughout 2020, more locations are being reached through additional courses, and MHFAiders are now supported with bi-monthly community learning sessions to provide light supervision and CPD.

Initial evaluation of the courses tells a story of positive impact.

“The course was excellent throughout. Something that should have been done in the industry 40 years ago. Brilliant.” - participant

Everyone who took part was asked to mark on a scale of 0-10 (0 being lowest and 10 being highest):

a) personal confidence supporting someone with a mental health issue increasing by 3.71

b) knowledge and understanding of how to support someone increasing by 4.3

The course and facilitators also scored highly with 100% rating as either Very Good or Good.

“Hearing parts of the instructors’ personal struggles makes the whole course more relatable and helps with reducing any judgement associated with their past or diagnosis.” - participant

But at everyday people we know what really matters is whether behaviour change has been realised back in the everyday business.

“I’ve seen people less afraid to tell me they are struggling. If that’s it, if that’s all we achieve, honestly, it’s enough.” – Michelle Wright, HSQE Manager

One senior manager approached a Mental Health First Aider following attendance of a MHFA 1-day Champion Course, expressly after completing the stress container exercise and realising they were having difficulty coping. Following the conversation and signposting offered, the manager spoke to their GP and received assistance.

By December 2019, the business was aware of at least 90 conversations that have taken place with a Mental Health First Aider in six months since training was introduced.

A significant increase in the use of the Lifeworks EAP had also been recorded with 178% rise in usage of the Employee Assistance line and 788% lift in utilisation of the Work-life Assistance line.

What’s even more promising is where the signposting came from – 49% advised by their line manager, 11% advised by HR, 15% via posters/intranet/brochures, and 10% previous users.

Adrian Thomas, Victoria Brookbank and Jake Kemp (twice!) on site tours – living the everyday people customer promise of being walking adverts for the brand.

The feedback goes both ways at everyday people. A member of the facilitator team, Adrian Thomas, mentioned how “All sites were hugely welcoming and adaptive to having us there. It was a pleasure to be supported by each team.”

We love that a company like Smurfit Kappa UK have taken steps towards creating a stigma free and supportive culture around Mental Health in the workplace alongside boosting employee wellbeing.

And we appreciate that MHFA is just one piece of the strategic jigsaw puzzle. Read on for the strategic story and the other elements making the implementation such a success.

The strategic story

The Smurfit Kappa UK wellbeing strategy is much more than MHFA training.

Firstly, purpose and structure were laid out with company policy being created - supported by CEO, Eddie Fellows. Alongside this, a UK Corrugated Health and Wellbeing committee was formed, and a collaborative approach from both the H&S and HR communities supported and championed by UK HR Director Trudy Rush and UK HSE Manager Nigel Elias was engaged to coordinate national initiatives regionally.

The committee chose the Workplace Wellbeing Charter as the foundation for review of 8 topic areas. Each site is encouraged to form an active wellbeing committee with champions who help form action plans and monthly initiatives around the charter. The intention is for this to be an active part of all 33 UK sites.

At a national level, the business utilises 24/7 Lifeworks Employee Assistance Programme to support colleagues with professional guidance and advice – both emotional and practical.

Helping to promote the strategy and associated activities are monthly H&S Toolbox Talks, which regularly include content relating to mental health and wellbeing. The monthly short talks are cascaded from CEO, Eddie Fellows through the businesses to ensure every colleague can stay connected to the latest updates, whatever their role.

In December 2019, the Toolbox Talk focus was on the Mental Health First Aid initiative as a further communication of what’s been happening across the country. Earlier in the year everyday people spoke at two internal events – the national leadership conference and trade union annual meeting.

So how is the MHFA role living and breathing?

Trained colleagues wear a green ribbon logo as identifier of the role – this was chosen by the MHFA community via a survey – all sites display posters with photos and also an email address used solely by the First Aiders. Some sites even have dedicated ‘let’s talk’ spaces. Monthly events focusing on specific health areas are chosen and rolled out by the MHFAs at each site.

To ensure sustainability of the approach, UK Head of Engagement, Jackie McDermott, facilitates the MHFA community using an online support group to share knowledge, information and pass on good practice being implemented at individual sites. Quarterly support calls provide another channel to connect and support one another.

As we head through 2020, Smurfit Kappa UK continue to train leaders in the 1-day MHFA Champion course and also to grow the First Aider community, so that support is distributed across the country. Locally, sites are developing calendars with their wellbeing committees to maintain focus throughout the year.

During the Covid-19 outbreak, everyday people has continued to support Smurfit Kappa UK with a variety of learning & communication interventions promoting mental health & wellbeing for all employees across the business.

Looking to the years ahead, refresher training will be provided to further support MHFA trained team members to support colleagues.

We’re looking forward to hearing more stories of how the Smurfit Kappa UK team continue to thrive!

*MHFA - What does it involve?

Mental Health First Aid courses can form part of a broader effective wellbeing strategy. They provide a first-response model that supports early intervention with a framework to:

  • Recognise the main signs/symptoms of mental ill health

  • Promote non-judgemental listening

  • Signpost initial help and guidance

  • Address concerns regarding suicide

  • Be mindful of your own wellbeing

There are 2 options which Smurfit Kappa have been trained in: 1-day Mental Health First Aid Champion, and 2-day Mental Health First Aider.

Find out more how we can support with embedding MHFA, bespoke leadership development, team workshops and coaching to bring your strategy to life, at

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