By Andrew Hobbs

BROAD partnerships with expert organisations have helped on-site services company Sodexo to develop a holistic mental health and wellbeing program recognised for its innovation.

Sodexo, which employs 4,000 people across Australia, launched its “I Hear You” program in 2014, aiming to raise awareness of mental health issues and to make sure that its employees had support in a critical incident scenario.

Company human resources and transformation director David McGregor said, on top of the pre-existing employee assistance program, Sodexo has a well-established relationship with Lifeline and Beyondblue.

“One of the things we wanted to make sure was that everybody knew we were not the experts – Sodexo were not the experts and they as employees were not in a position to either recognise or diagnose mental health,” he said.

“What we wanted to be was able to recognise that somebody was in trouble for whatever reason and be able to ask them, is everything ok? … and also to know where to go and where to refer people who were in trouble.”

To achieve this, Sodexo wrote to employees and their families to promote the existing program, but complemented this with mental health training sessions held in every business and support centre of the company.

Sodexo also wrote to clients, offering for their client base to be involved and to provide the basic materials and plans for the toolbox sessions conducted by the company.

“Because this needs to be a broad collaborative effort, we have decided there is to be no proprietary material, no proprietary knowledge on I Hear You – it is open for discussion in industry forums, it is open for industry forums to knock on our doors,” Mr McGregor said.

He added that it was important that the company be able to move forward meaningfully from the launch of its awareness program.

“We had to make sure we had clear goals: somewhere to go. It’s going to be a long developmental path in how we do our business.  It’s timely. Like many businesses we’ve focused mainly on physical wellbeing for many, many years,” he said.

“The next step has to be about acquisition of knowledge and acquisition of skills.

This education is important for everybody in Sodexo and across our many partners; it is certainly a cornerstone in building resilience.”

“The more we talk about it, the more acceptable this conversation becomes. More people will look for help because they will recognise if they are in trouble with mental health,” he added.