Peer support flagship initiative to guide the way to a resilient APS
The Department of Home Affairs and the APS Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Unit combine to reimagine traditional approaches to building staff resilience.
By Susannah Zuckerman, APS Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Unit, Australian Public Service Commission
APS agencies are invested in developing resilient workforces – ones that can bounce back quickly after setbacks and are well positioned to respond adaptively to change.
Rachael McMahon, Principal Psychologist and Director of the APS Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Unit, is encouraging APS workplaces to reimagine traditional approaches to developing staff resilience and include investment in relational/collective capability offerings and programs.
We can leverage multiple evidence-based approaches to building staff resilience that emphasise the importance of fostering social connection and relationships between people. This initiative is innovative and forward-looking. There is evidence that well-constructed and implemented peer support networks are worthwhile investments and contribute to building the overall mental health and wellbeing capability of an organisation.
A flagship initiative between the Unit and the Department of Home Affairs will examine, at the micro-skill level, what kind of peer-to-peer capabilities the APS should develop in its workforce.
‘Most people that experience an emotionally impactful event do not need to immediately seek the support of psychologists or counsellors,’ says Connie Galati, the Unit’s Senior Clinical Psychologist and lead for the project. ‘They seek out their peers, colleagues, friends and family for support and validation. That is why this work is so important.’
It’s not just skill development that the initiative will focus on, it will examine the corporate governance systems, evaluation and reporting needed to support these programs to run safely and effectively. ‘There is little benefit in developing peer networks without sound governance, as they may be ineffective or at worst, cause harm,’ she emphasises.
Connie confirms that this new collaboration with the Department of Home Affairs is a natural one as they have one of the most established peer-to-peer support programs across the service.
‘Since establishing our professional peer support officer (PSO) program in 2016 with 26 PSOs, our network is now 110 PSO strong, and we have firm plans to grow it further,’ affirms Stephen Hayward, First Assistant Secretary, Health Services Division at the Department of Home Affairs. ‘Our PSO program is a tremendous asset. At a macro level, we are uplifting our organisational capability and aligning to whole-of-service objectives. At a granular level, we demonstrate that we are people-focused – we see the value in human connection, and are fostering collective resilience.’
Connie says a human-centred design approach to developing the program will be taken. This will include holding user workshops with APS staff already working in a variety of peer roles. The discovery phase of the project starts in late July and will eventuate in an interactive and engaging e-learning product that is fit for purpose for the unique and diverse APS operating environment, similar to the highly regarded Compassionate Foundations suicide prevention e-learning suite, launched by the Unit in February.
‘Through the outcomes of this project, we can develop and lay down a whole-of-service foundation in relational, peer-to-peer capability that all APS agencies can build from, which will contribute to a resilient, strong and connected APS,’ adds Rachael.
If you are currently working in or have previously worked in a peer-to-peer support role in the APS (such as peer support officer, mental health first aid officer, Indigenous or disability liaison officer) you can get involved by completing the APS Peer Support Capability Project survey.