"We learn and understand what the employees are capable of and we try and develop a program that'll enable them to settle in to the workplace, to build upon their hours, to meet their individual goals."

About the initiatives

Clean Force is a commercial cleaning company that assists people with a mental health condition or a chronic, enduring disability to enter or re-enter the workforce. A not-for-profit social enterprise, it provides employment for people who may be excluded from the general labour market and helps them develop skills and experience. 

With the majority of its employees experiencing some form of disadvantage, the way Clean Force manages its people is necessarily distinct from most other organisations. It has formal workplace policies, but what sets the organisation apart is its supportive, flexible and individual-focused approach. Team leaders strive to be aware of employees’ needs and customise tasks to match individual capabilities and work-readiness. In equipping its leadership team, Clean Force provides training on frontline management and Mental Health First Aid training for supervisors and team leaders.

Key characteristics of Clean Force's approach include:

Awareness

All staff members are very well informed about mental health. Staff and team leaders who have previously worked in the community sector may already have this background knowledge, while others are provided with training in mental health through organisations such as Social Firm Australia. With this knowledge, they are able to recognise signs of relapse and offer support when necessary. 

Tailored approach

Staff and team leaders use an individualised approach for each employee. During the recruitment and induction process, the employee works with their manager to identify their strengths and what they find most challenging. Together they develop and implement strategies to overcome any barriers. As part of this highly transparent and participatory process, the agreed goals and strategies are reviewed when the employee reaches set milestones.

Collaboration

Collaboration is intrinsic to the organisation. As well as scheduled monthly employee support meetings, there are frequent informal discussions about work situations and an informal peer review process. When a team leader has experienced a challenging situation, they will share it at a meeting and seek advice from others. A safe, judgement-free environment is created for sharing strategies that worked well and the ones to avoid. 

Extra leave entitlement

As part of an enterprise agreement, employees have access to more sick leave than at most companies. Extra days are offered to provide employees with a safety net, as many have physical or mental conditions that keep them away from work from time to time. Although most employees don’t use the extra leave, having it available gives them peace of mind.

Supported Wage System

Under this scheme, employees eligible for the Disability Support Pension are paid according to their productivity, which is independently assessed. This arrangement reduces pressure on employees and helps people to remain employed. However, the focus remains on increasing productivity over time wherever possible. It also enables the organisation to competitively price its cleaning contracts.

Regular time off

Support staff and team leaders are encouraged to take a day off when they have been experiencing high workload or stress, and requests for leave are generally granted. Rosters are more flexible than many other organisations to meet team leaders’ needs.

 

Benefits and outcomes

Benefits and outcomes of this approach include that:

  • the organisation has a strong safety record and has had no psychological stress-related claims over the past 12 years
  • the quality of work is very high and loss of cleaning contracts is rare
  • the business has a very low level of WorkCover claims for physical injuries compared to the rest of the commercial cleaning industry
  • Clean Force has high staff retention statistics, with an average employee tenure of seven years
  • it records high employee productivity, with an average of 92 per cent 
  • a number of employees have successfully transitioned into the mainstream workforce.

  •  

    Recommendations, considerations and lessons learned

    Challenge: Concern that employers need to be experts in mental health

    Action: 

    • Employers may worry that employing a person with a mental health condition means knowing how to diagnose and treat it, but this is not the case. Providing support is like providing support to someone who is limping – you don’t know whether it’s their ankle, knee or back causing the limp, but you can still modify their work to suit their capability.
    • The important point is to notice changes in behaviour and know how to respond and draw on relevant expertise or support services.

    Challenge: Fear of discrimination

    Action: 

    • Approach mental health conditions with the same attitude one approaches a physical ailment.
    • Enable the disclosure of mental health conditions to occur up front and keep conversation open.
    • Having open conversations about issues along the way can help prevent costly claims and boost employee retention.
    Paul Fraser
    Clean Force

    Paul Fraser
    Manager
    Clean Force