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How health initiatives have halved sick days for Grimsby’s seafood giant

ABSENTEEISM has fallen by more than 50 per cent at Grimsby’s largest private employer, after bosses were inspired to ensure Young’s Seafood became a leading light in a healthy workplace scheme.

How health initiatives have halved sick days for Grimsby’s seafood giant

Rates of between eight and nine per cent are now below four per cent after the processing giant graduated through the bronze, silver and gold standards.

With a self-set vision to get the nation eating more fish, on the back of the well-versed health benefits of its products, it revealed how a 10 year journey within its Grimsby factories and iconic Ross House headquarters has proved popular. 

Maria Fotellis, pictured left, head of human resources at Young’s, addressed a special Bondholders breakfast event, explaining the work done within.

It came ahead of this month’s news that the company has won major contracts with Marks & Spencer, while proposing reorganisation of its Scottish facilities and bringing more work to the town, in moves that will create 200 jobs. 

The results came out as she told about the journey to address mental illness.

Maria said: “We need to care for employees and their families. As a main employer in the area, and as a manufacturer we are well versed in helping people stay healthy physically and the benefits are well known by employees and managers and there is no stigma attached to asking for help.

“We know stress and related mental health makes up a substantial amount of workplace sickness. Nine or 10 years ago we heard about North East Lincolnshire Council’s healthy workplace programme and we were inspired and right then we wanted to take the lead, to take responsibility of the wellness of our team. 

“We started with easier subjects, healthy eating and smoking cessation. No-one in our organisation knew how to cope with people with mental health anxiety and stress. We took the easy option and started with healthy eating, we gave free fruit to our employees - two pieces of fruit for over 1,000 people. 

“It gave us a quick win, and helped us achieve the bronze award as the first company in the region to do that. We went for silver, and again stayed away from mental health, instead focusing on physical activity, alcohol and substance misuse, an we achieved the silver award, and was the first employer in the region to do that.  

“Then we decided it was time, and to go for the third we chose mental wellbeing and minimising stress. We knew it was going to get tough. 

“When you look at the factories of our size, one has 450 people  in. A line manager manages 15 to 20 people, and that line manager spends most of his day with that person, and can see anxiety, as early intervention is key. We trained our managers on identifying changes and worked with the best people the area, Healthy Places and Navigo. We partnered with these people who know what they are doing.  Dan Pryah and Adam Johnston, we couldn’t have done it without them.”

It emerged all the initial steps were paving the way for easing the dealing with mental illness. 

“We soon realised all the things we did previously helped mental wellbeing.All the physical activity, healthy eating, smoking cessation and alcohol and drugs work, it all fitted together and the penny dropped for us, that we had been working on mental health for a substantial time and not realised we had been. 

“We helped a few people, we had some really challenging people, and it was really critical we linked up with the agencies, as it opened doors for us to take people for crisis care and to Navigo to get people seen quicker. They would see them on the day.”

And positive steps have encouraged a culture shift.

“What people do when they have mental illness –  and there is realisation - is they talk about it, they will tell people how they feel, and it creates conversation. In a factory, where you have men, women, of different shapes and sizes, we had an employee,  a 6ft tall rugby player, who had mental issues, talk about it and that encourages others to talk about it, and it created a pull for the service. 

“We broadened our scope to care for more people. It is about sustainability. You have to do it, embed it then sustain it. We always had the intention of embedding into our culture and this is the support. We are seeing results. We have seen 147 employees across every level, from production operatives to director level.  That’s just over 10 per cent. We had over 400 appointments, and it is not just come and see and go away, it is continued support.”

Seafood’s health status flagged up as part of wider wellness agenda

GRIMSBY’S prime export could help ease the burden on the NHS, the town event heard.

Heather Middleton, pictured right, marketing manager for industry authority Seafish, put the statistics behind the bold claims from the sector.

She said: “We have an amazing seafood industry here, and it great to see so much done for the workforce. We are simply not eating it as much as we should.

“Poor health costs the NHS £9 billion annually, and costs 179,000 lives. We have fantastic companies like Young’s in this area that can really help us. Omega Three is a no brainer for us,” she added, going on to list Vitamin D, Vitamin B, calcium, iron, iodine, zinc, potassium and selenium as vital pieces of a healthy lifestyle menu, all found in seafood.

“Small changes can make a difference, one extra portion will get us to two a week, and that is recognised as the optimum we should be going for,” she said. “We are only at 1.15 portions of fish a week.

“Bringing the message back is a priority. The NHS recommendation is to eat fish twice a week as part of a healthy diet.

Seafood can tackle obesity. It keeps you fuller for longer, you don’t have to eat so much protein, it is low fat and low carb. In nutrient terms getting so much goodness it is amazing what you can get.”

Addressing business leaders, she said companies could get in on the act. “Create a challenge, appoint a champion,” she said. “The work done in Grimsby is absolutely amazing, we need to eat more Grimsby fish. We don’t look at health as a flash in the pan, it is a long term project.”

Having explained the company’s steps, Maria Fotellis also covered off Young’s products. 

On the subject of dietary support, she said: “In Britain you can never be more than 70 miles away from the coast, yet we consume four times more meat than fish. We don’t like handling it and we don’t know what to do with it, it is expensive and we don’t want to mess it up, yet we choose it a lot in a restaurant. 

We believe a fish loving nation is a happier nation, and we have one vision, to inspire people to love fish now and for generations to come.”

David Gent of Active Humber, a charitable company whose purpose is to help people of all ages and backgrounds to improve their health and well-being by taking part in regular physical activity and sport, concluded the event.

Looking at the wider region, he said: “If our region was a nation in its own right it would be in the top 10 in the world for Olympic medals, but when it comes to physical activity we are puddings.  It is one of the most inactive places in England by far. To tell you how serious that problem is, we should be doing 150 minutes each week of physical activity. Only 28 per cent in the region are doing 150 minutes. The health problems are stacking up enormously. Muscular skeletal diseases, cancers, mental health...”

He urged businesses to investigate “small solutions” such as clocking on flexibility to aid a daily exercise, and a “revolution of the lunch break,” for brisk walking.

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