“On time and reliable”: Employer ACC Services sets mental illness stigma in the workplace straight

The greatest stories often boast the simplest beginnings, and so it is with ACC Services’ evolution from employer to star recruiter of people who have a mental illness.

It all began with a spontaneous drop in at ACC Services’s Clayton South premises.

WISE Employment Liaison Officer (ELO) Souzan, from WISE Employment Dandenong, explains: “One of my casual ELOs was getting his car serviced at the mechanic next door to ACC Services so he thought he might pop in for a chat. He made an appointment with Vivienne at reception and I then came in with Gavin (casual ELO) to tell her a little bit more about WISE Employment.”

ACC Services Managing Director, Ingrid’s initial reaction to hiring a person who has a mental illness was, similar to 38% of employers in a McNair research study on stigma commissioned by WISE, one of trepidation and fear. Ingrid admits, “I was worried they might threaten other staff.”

The WISE Employment team was able to put those fears to bay, gently guiding Ingrid through the interview process with a number of candidates for various positions on the factory floor. “I have a duty of care to my clients,” Souzan says. “I normally don’t disclose their illness; I concentrate on what they can do. They are able-bodied, functioning people.”

ACC Services now employs 12 people who have a mental illness

In just two months, WISE Employment has placed 12 clients with ACC Services—a packaging company with more than 50 employees in peak season— with different types of mental illness, but mostly anxiety and depression.

The experience has altered Ingrid’s and her entire management team’s perception of mental illness dramatically. “It has completely changed my mind,” she says. “They are totally normal! There is no difference between them and my other staff. You can talk to them just like anyone else. They are a really good group of people.”

Four or five weeks into the placements, Ingrid gradually introduced higher productivity targets, all of which were met without as much as a blip. The group gets excited when they reach their targets, boosting their self esteem and sense of worth.

In fact, the only problem for Ingrid seems to be keeping her new employees away, with one keen worker turning up even on his days off!

“Employees who have a mental illness are really reliable, says Ingrid, “They are always on time. Even when we change the start times, they are on time. They seem really happy to be here.”

Employment Consultant Billy, also part of the dedicated WISE Employment team supporting ACC Services’ initial recruitment of staff and ongoing support, says our job seekers are super appreciative when they are given a go. “In the past, they’ve had a lot of knockbacks so now that they’ve been given an opportunity, they really appreciate it.”

Smashing the stigma of employing people who have a mental illness

One such worker is Trevor. Trevor has always been very open about his depression. “I got depression about five years ago,” he says. “My wife and I lived in a small house. We had a baby. Work wasn’t going so good. The pressures of life plus having a new baby, it all accumulated. One day I was in a really bad place and I spent some time in hospital to recover.”

Trevor remains hopeful that people will become a lot more educated about mental illness. “They talk about it a bit more on TV, but there is still a stigma there. There is this perception that people are happy one minute and fly into a rage the next, but I’m not like that.”

With medication and regular visits to his psychiatrist, Trevor is back on track. His new job has been a major factor in his recovery. “When I’m here, I don’t have time to get depressed; I just concentrate on doing the job.”

Trevor says WISE Employment’s support has been paramount along the way. “I reckon WISE Employment has done more for me than any other employment agency,” Trevor says. “With other job agencies, they call you once and you never hear from them again. With WISE Employment, they regularly keep in touch.”

Trevor’s strong work ethic has seen him promoted to Team Leader, a role he is thoroughly enjoying. “The team know their job,” Trevor says modestly, “I just make sure the work gets done.”

Ingrid’s open and welcoming attitude has been a breath of fresh air for the gently spoken employee. “Ingrid has been wonderful. Every morning she comes over and says ‘how’s it going?’ In other companies, you never see your boss, they sit in their office. I feel comfortable here.”

Real benefits happen for both employer and employee when employers employ people who have a mental illness

One senses a very real rapport and mutual respect between the workers and their boss. “I’m proud of our staff,” Ingrid says. “They are responsible and they deliver the highest quality. All our packs meet the strictest standards and requirements.”

Souzan and her team’s expertise and enthusiasm educating Ingrid about the rewards of hiring someone who has a mental illness have been key. “Souzan was so well-organised,” Ingrid says. “It made our job easier. There is constant care from WISE after the clients are employed.”

From screening potential candidates to sitting in on second round interviews, organising appropriate work-wear for the factory floor to assistance in accessing employer wage subsidies to help offset the costs associated with extra administration and occupational health and safety (OHS), WISE Employment’s support has been intensive and one-on-one. “Souzan has held my hand all the way through,” Ingrid says.This support has resulted in an almost perfect retention rate (one worker left to return to her place of birth overseas).

Ingrid is positively bubbling over with enthusiasm about her new employees. She has put the call out to other employers about her experience hiring people who have a mental illness: “Just employ them! They are reliable, they are always on time. Any successful business is about its people.”

“Lack of education was the only barrier”, Souzan adds. “The heart was there, the people skills were there. Ingrid treats everyone with the utmost respect.”


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