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Seeds of division sown within Workplace Support

By Marie Sherry

The Methodist Church of New Zealand has chosen not to endorse a breakaway sector of the Interchurch Trade and Industry Mission Group, Workplace Support.

The breakaway group, known as Seed, was originally the central North Island division of ITIM Workplace Support, which was founded in 1970 and is New Zealand’s longest established provider of workplace chaplaincy and employee support programmes. The network used to comprise of five regions, including the central group which covered the lower half of the North Island including Nelson.

Several years ago the central group undertook a rebranding exercise and decided to call itself Seed. Today it offers a national service to its clients.

Seed chief executive Doris Cuthell says the group’s analysis of what its client organisations needed differed to the analysis undertaken by Workplace Support.

"We came up with different solutions and each of us is serving our clients the best way we know how," she says.

"From our point of view the strategic vision of our board is to offer to clients what we call workplace wellness."

Seed not only offers the traditional components of counselling and workplace support, but also looks at careers and work changes, as well as workplace and wellness services, which cover a wide brief.

While Seed specialises in psychological wellness services, its clients are increasingly looking for a one-stop shop that includes physical wellness.

In order to meet this need, Seed has established a strategic alliance with Auckland-based company Azion, which offers physical wellness services. Azion’s mission is to energise workforces by boosting the functional capacity and resilience of people by helping them improve or maintain their health and vitality.

"We’re operating on a broad wellness mandate which gives us a lot of flexibility in the services we offer."

Doris says the demand for Seed’s services has grown throughout the country. While Workplace Support operated individual regions that passed work between them, some clients were frustrated at the lack of consistency across the country, she says.

"There were strengths in that but also weaknesses, as each region was operating differently. Our solution to that was a strategic vision around wellness and a belief that an organisation where there were one set of standards would solve that problem. We tried to work together to form that and were unable to.

"We’ve been providing services in New Zealand for 35-plus years and commercial competitors have been there 15 or 10 years. We have a long history and a strong track record with the blue collar workforce in New Zealand and the unions.

"Our view is that what clients now have is a choice in the market. There are commercial competitors, there is Workplace Support and everything they offer under their brand, and they have Seed. From the clients’ point of view the market has never been better."

However, Methodist Church of New Zealand president Brian Turner, who has been involved in both the ITIM Workplace Support and Seed organisations, says Seed does not have the official endorsement of the Methodist Church.

Brian was not in favour of the Seed rebranding, with Workplace Support continuing to offer core early intervention services, with specialty services built on from there.

"My recommendation is that the Methodist Church continues to affirm ITIM Workplace Support as its preferred provider of workplace-related services and mission."

Late last year Seed sent an open letter to church councils and stakeholder churches asking the MCNZ to "consider collaborating with interested churches to establish a&single organisation with national structure to succeed the five incorporated societies currently operating in New Zealand under the trading names of Workplace Support and Seed."

The Presbyterian Church’s response to the proposal was to ask Seed and ITIM to sort out their difficulties themselves and come back to stakeholders with an agreed position to endorse.

"Initially I saw merit in this proposal, but now wonder why an organisation (ITIM Workplace Support) enjoying the ongoing support of the churches that established it should have to put energy and resources into negotiating with a breakaway segment (Seed), that to date has refused to negotiate within the ITIM network they were once an integral part of," Brian says.