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Major change for 115,000 workers

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One of Australia’s largest employers has announced a major change in support for its 115,000 workers. NCA NewsWire / David Mariuz

McDonald’s has taken a new tech approach to providing support for its mainly young staff, with surprising results.

The fast food giant has partnered with wellbeing platform Sonder to add the app to its employee assistance program (EAP).

Sonder provides 24/7 live chat with registered professionals such as nurses, psychologists, and emergency responders, plus a range of wellbeing resources and safety support.

More than 10,000 McDonalds employees have signed up to the app, a figure that’s growing by 30 per cent each month.

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Three quarters of McDonald’s employees are between the ages of 18-24, a demographic that is at higher risk of mental health problems. NCA NewsWire / David Mariuz

So far, the majority of chats between Maccas workers and Sonder’s professionals have taken place between 10pm and 1am, showing that younger generations needs are different when it comes to support in the workplace, McDonald’s chief people officer Emma Napoli-Hala said.

“I think it shows that businesses have an opportunity to rethink the way they’re supporting the mental health and wellbeing of younger employees,” she said.

Ms Napoli-Hala said the fact that most workers are younger strongly influenced the decision to use an app-based EAP provider.

“We are one of the largest employers of young people in Australia, which means we have a big responsibility to ensure our crew are supported whenever, wherever, and however they need,” she said.

The vast majority of McDonald’s 115,000 employees are young people, with approximately 75 per cent of crew in secondary school, TAFE or university.

Research shows that people aged 18-24 are more likely to report higher levels of stress, exhaustion and acute mental health, with 43 per cent of young people struggle with anxiety compared to 27 per cent of the wider population.

All of the managers and half of the crew at Thornleigh McDonalds have begun to engage with Sonder since it launched.
All of the managers and half of the crew at Thornleigh McDonald’s have begun to engage with Sonder since it launched.

According to restaurant manager at Thornleigh McDonald’s in Sydney Blake Northcott, the app has made his job much easier since it was brought in four months ago.

“It gives me a tool and resource to say ‘there’s someone that you can speak to that’s qualified and able to help you in any issue that you’re facing’,” he said.

“It’s been really helpful and a good resource for me and my managers as well.”

There’s been 100 per cent uptake of the app in Mr Northcott’s managing team along with half of the store’s crew, a figure that’s growing.

“The app is especially good for the Year 12 students at the moment going into HSC,” he said.

“It’s a very nervous and difficult time so a few of them have said that its really good to be able to reach out and have that anonymous chat to someone, just to manage that mental health aspect throughout this sort of difficult time.”

McDonalds has found that its crew have engaged with Sonder at a rate 30 times higher than their traditional EAP.

Stephen Shillington, one of the first franchisees to sign up to trial the app, said it was an easy decision to do so.

Sonder provides 24/7 live chat with registered professionals such as nurses, psychologists, and emergency responders, plus a range of wellbeing resources and safety support.
Sonder provides 24/7 live chat with registered professionals such as nurses, psychologists, and emergency responders, plus a range of wellbeing resources and safety support.

“I employ more than 500 people, and their wellbeing has always been my priority,” he said.

“My own kids are Macca’s crew members, and so as an employer and a parent, it’s important to me to ensure they have access to as much support as we can provide.”

Sonder co-founder and chief executive Craig Cowdrey said the business was excited to partner with the fast food juggernaut.

“Through our initial launch program with McDonald’s, 100 per cent of crew members who reached out for help told us they felt more supported by having Sonder,” he said.

“By helping these employees live well and perform their best, we can ensure McDonald’s continues to be an employer of choice for generations to come.”