The COURAGE-CONNECT-CARE program was created by the Australian Government’s Department of Education, Skills and Employment to support staff during times of uncertainty and change during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The department formed in February 2020, just prior to the pandemic and during the worst summer bushfires in living memory. As systems were integrated and new teams formed, COVID-19 arrived on Australian shores. Teams that were together only for a short time quickly transitioned to remote work, just as our department became central to the government’s COVID-19 response.
As the pace of work and the support provided to Australians increased, staff entered periods of lockdown. The COURAGE-CONNECT-CARE program was launched to help them cope with the effects of the pandemic.
An Emphasis on Supporting Staff
The program encouraged staff to draw on their courage to endure challenging times, connect and check-in with each other, and care for themselves — their mental health, wellbeing and work-life balance. The department was continually sensing and responding to staff needs with tailored support to build resilience.
In response, staff reached out for support when they needed someone to talk to. A network of Employee Support Officers was recruited, trained and mobilised offering advice, and guidance to help staff to access support services, many who had never needed them before. Wonderful and inspiring examples of connection brought teams isolated and in lockdown together—from virtual trivia, to virtual Friday night drinks, these informal meetings helped retain a sense of team and a belonging. Pets always made an appearance as guest stars. A key feature of the campaign was the caring—for us and each other. A dedicated CARE campaign featured staff sharing their tips on mental health, wellbeing, and work life balance. These informal video tips were backed by advice from experts shared through a CARE podcast series covering each of these themes.
The COURAGE-CONNECT-CARE program continues today with many staff still enduring extended periods of lockdown as the Delta variant circulates within the community. COURAGE-CONNECT-CARE is evolving. HR Check-in calls have been initiated—these one-on-one calls check on the wellbeing of staff. At a department-wide level, we have added SHARE as an additional pillar, to encourage staff to send messages of support to their colleagues in lockdown—recognising a kind word, and thoughtful tip, can help lift spirits and build staff resilience to sustain their efforts and focus on supporting Australians in their time of need.
Honor and Recognition
Receiving a Gold Quill Award was a great honor for the department’s COVID-19 Working Group — a multi-disciplinary team who worked behind the scenes to deliver the COURAGE-CONNECT-CARE program to support staff nationally. The Gold Quill Award validated the power of people-centered and peopled-powered programs to support staff during periods of uncertainty and the potential of these initiatives to bolster resilience to support mental health and wellbeing.
Being recognized alongside public and private sector companies from around the globe was both humbling and inspiring, as there were exceptional examples of effective communication delivered in varying contexts to learn from.
Reflecting on the nomination process and the award, the team highlighted the importance of explaining the budget allocated and the creative process. The COURAGE-CONNECT-CARE program was developed in house, with only internal resources and no dedicated budget — just the will of staff with a vision and the skills to bring this program to life, and the support of an engaged, proactive executive sponsor who truly cared about the staff’s needs. The essence of the campaign was to uplift, bolster and build resilience — which is only possible through the power of effective communication.
The awards are a true showcase of what’s possible when communication professionals partner with business areas to support change, and receiving a Gold Quill Award celebrates that success.