Wednesday, 20 November 2019 13:55

Making it OK to ask for help

Written by  David Anderson
Alliance Group’s Chris Selbie. Alliance Group’s Chris Selbie.

Meat processing company Alliance has started an employee support programme aimed at getting colleagues to look after each other and keep an eye out for possible mental health issues.

Its ‘Mates at the Gate’ programme encourages staff to ask for support at an early stage and also educates employees on the signs their colleagues might be depressed or distressed.  

The programme, which is specifically tailored to Alliance’s workforce, was launched across the company’s processing plants and corporate offices in November 2018. 

General manager people and safety at Alliance, Chris Selbie, told Rural News that since its launch a year ago the company had seen an encouraging increase in the use of its Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). 

He says there has been a significant uplift in people right across the company accessing the EAP since the introduction of ‘Mates at the Gate’.

“This suggests that a number of our people probably would not have self-referred to EAP. It really is about mates helping mates.”

Selbie says mental health is an issue that affects all New Zealanders and the Alliance Group wanted to do something meaningful to ensure its workforce had access to the right support if and when it was required. 

“Mates at the Gate is raising awareness and encouraging people to seek help early.”

Selbie says the idea was based on and adapted for the meat sector from a similar programme in the construction sector in NZ and Australia.

Mates at the Gate was developed and delivered by Dave Armstrong, health and safety manager at Alliance’s Smithfield plant in Timaru along with Professor Annette Beautrais of the University of Canterbury, who has worked internationally developing suicide prevention programmes. 

“We have a lot of men working for us, many in physically demanding jobs, and some men are not so good at asking for help around mental health,” Armstrong said.  

“This is getting the message out that help is available through our EAP and that the earlier you get help the better.” 

Selbie says suicide is a real problem especially in rural and regional NZ.

“Most of our employees will have known someone who has experienced mental health issues. There is a lot of buy-in from them for this and we are seeing a significant uplift in people seeking help.” 

He says the company’s EAP covers a wide range of mental health and wellbeing issues including anxiety and depression, personal relationships and family, financial and children concerns, stress management, alcohol and drugs, and grief and trauma.

Selbie says the programme is confidential and allows workmates to ensure anyone who needs help can get it.

“It’s about making it ok to ask if people are ok,” he said.

How it works

Dave Armstrong says the ‘Mates at the Gate’ programme is helping Alliance’s workforce people spot the signs of stress among colleagues and ensure they know what they can do to help.

Volunteers from every site are trained as ‘connectors’, whose role is to link colleagues experiencing problems to the best source of help.  The training introduces staff to the nature of mental health and provides practical advice about how they can assist and support their workmates. 

“We can offer confidential professional help to support people who need it and fund that through our EAP. But it’s also about mates helping mates and giving our people the tools to intervene early and link people to help.”

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