Jim’s Group – making mental health support a key part of business training and operations

| April 28, 2022

Jim Penman is a household icon and at 70 years of age, he is still very much involved in the running and direction of the Jim’s Group which he founded over 30 years ago – and he is determined to ensure the group maintains focus on the mental health and support of its Franchisors and Franchisees.

“At Jim’s Group, we have a strong focus on the welfare of our Franchisees. Though being in business for yourself has many benefits for mental health, not least a flexible lifestyle that allows time for family, it can be hard at times. Income may be variable, especially in the early days. And though our high standards of customer service help keep Franchisees busy, poor service can result in complaints and poor surveys. Dealing with these can be stressful,” Jim Penman said.

“The most important counter to stress is to build a sense of community. Franchisors are required to phone Franchisees at least monthly, ideally weekly, and to respond fast to their phone calls.

“These calls provide business training and advice, but they are also designed to maintain a relationship and look for any signs of trouble.

Mr Penman said all Franchisors must attend mental health training, so they can react quickly and give appropriate help.

“Meetings are also vital. These are held six-weekly or so throughout the year, usually with a meal provided. The aim is not just to provide business training but to develop relationships. New Franchisees can learn from experienced ones, and ties built at meetings often lead to lasting friendships.

“Franchisees appointed as trainers have a special role in looking after newcomers. We know from experience that Franchisees who attend meetings regularly are far more likely to be happy and satisfied.”

According to Penman another form of support comes from Franchisees in each state who have volunteered as mentors to anyone in need.

“We are committed to supporting the mental health of our people across the entire group. As part of this, we also pay for professional counselling from qualified psychologists so that our Franchisors and Franchisees can access this at no cost whenever they need.

“In addition, each new Franchisee is sent a fridge magnet with emergency numbers, most relating to mental health. And resilience training is a key part of our induction program.

Mr Penman said although the business does far more in the area of mental health than in the past, there is still room for improvement.

“It is a sad fact that mental illness is the biggest danger our people face. Though they work at heights and with powered machinery, in more than three decades we have had only one fatal accident (with a chainsaw).  But several Franchisees have committed suicide, and one killed his wife and his three little girls. Though business stress was not an issue in this last case, it was a shocking experience that caused us to redouble our efforts.”

Beyond all this, the Jim’s Group is also financing a research program at LaTrobe University into the epigenetics of social behaviour, aiming at the root causes of drug addiction and other mental health issues. Funding is currently $2 million a year, with the intent of expanding the initiative as the business grows.

“Mental health affects all of us. It is a responsibility for all of us,” Penman added.