McDonald’s franchise owners tell of positive experience hiring job seekers who have a mental illness

Former Sydney-siders Corey and Carla took on a serious challenge late last year, relocating to Tasmania to launch their dream McDonald’s restaurant.

And just as they began the venture, WISE Employment, encouraged the couple to take another challenge, proposing they hire several job seekers with mental illness and disabilities for the start-up team.

Giving staff with disability a go through employment

“It all happened at once. We were relocating our family, and making a significant investment in the restaurant,” recalls Corey, who launched the North Hobart McDonald’s in late December 2012. The veteran McDonald’s staffers, and teenage sweethearts who met “flipping burgers at Maccas as 15 year-olds”, say they always planned to have a diverse workforce in their own business.

“We were starting from scratch,” says Corey.  “Our priority was on establishing our restaurant; hiring staff or employees with mental illness and disabilities from day one wasn’t something we had initially considered.”

But looking back, they are truly proud of their decision, in that moment of truth, to work with WISE Employment and hire about 11 job seekers, of which at least four had mental illness. Today, WISE job seekers make up about 10 percent of their 90-strong workforce, and Corey and Carla can’t imagine their North Hobart team without them.

Disability employment facilitates diversity in the workplace

Dealing with diversity or difference in all its forms, including the employment of staff with a disability, is all part of the challenge of leading, not just managing, and tightly woven into the McDonald’s culture that Corey and Carla grew and developed within. They believe those differences, whether social, emotional, intellectual or physical, are what make us human, are part of the McDonald’s ethos of employee inclusiveness, and which now enrich the personality of their own enterprise.

“Managing the day-to-day business, we can all be quick to put people issues – like mental illness and disability – in the ‘just too complicated’ and ‘too hard’ basket.

“But there are so many good people out there who happen to have a disability, with so much to offer their employers – people you might never consider employing.  I’d encourage anyone to come and meet my team. We are so proud of them and the WISE crew are such a valued part of everything we do.”

Mental illness no barrier to employment success – Matthew’s story

One of those employees, Matthew, says he was “on the road to nowhere” before connecting with WISE Employment and securing his job as barista at the new North Hobart McDonald’s.

Matthew, who has bipolar disorder as well as depression, had dropped out of the workforce and was spiralling downward into a dark place. “I was unemployable”, he says.

Today, he is managing his illness, making great coffee and delighting the customers as the front face of the McCafe.

Corey says Matthew touched a chord during his interview. “It broke my heart when I interviewed him. And I’m not a softy. I’ve heard it all. But he’s so young and spoke of the days when he just couldn’t get out of bed”.

But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing, according to Corey, who says settling in came with its own unique challenges. And from those challenges, also came new learning for both Matthew and Corey.  In terms of managing, it underlines how everyone is different, and how everyone can learn – to change behaviour and work together with a shared sense of purpose and direction. “Everyone has different needs, and we had to work from different perspectives and angles to move forward.”

Ongoing employment support for staff with disability helps streamline work relationships and operations

“I think through it all, Matthew just needed an employer to show they understood and cared,” says Corey. He says that WISE Employment Hobart’s team has supported him and his employees from the outset. “WISE Employment Consultant Robin Rhodes worked hard to get us onboard initially, and now I’m in touch with him at least fortnightly, sometimes weekly. The support is always there.”

Corey says he didn’t realise how passionate he would become about creating opportunities for people with disabilities and mental illness. “It left me asking: who gives these people a chance?  I think we all have to give disability employment a go. It’s not straightforward, and it can be complicated, even frustrating. But managing people never is easy.  We are all different.” Corey says “the payback is invaluable”, seeing people getting out and having a go and developing and growing as individuals.

Matthew recently started cross training on the restaurant front counter for his career development. He was initially reluctant to step out of his comfort zone. “On his first day we had a mystery shopper on the front counter. Matthew got a 100 percent score,” says Corey. “Hiring staff with disability and mental illness wasn’t part of the start-up plan. But looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing.”


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