For a workplace to be healthy, it needs to be safe

Monday 15 August 2022

The latest episode of Conversations that Count – Ngā Kōrero Whai Take tackles the big and often misinterpreted issue of workplace wellbeing.

Host Stacey Morrison is joined by Wellbeing Manager Zoe Brownlie and E tū assistant national secretary Rachel Mackintosh for episode three.

As we navigate a world indelibly changed by the Covid-19 pandemic, calls for workplaces to better and more meaningfully support their staff continue to multiply both in number and in intensity. But are employers hearing and heeding those pleas? In the latest episode of Conversations that Count – Ngā Kōrero Whai Take, produced in partnership with The Spinoff, we ask what businesses can do to support and sustain the wellbeing of their staff and whether there’s enough will or impetus to make necessary changes happen.

On this episode, host Stacey Morrison is joined by Massey University Wellbeing Manager Zoe Brownlie and E tū assistant national secretary Rachel Mackintosh for a frank and wide-ranging kōrero about workplace wellbeing. For Brownlie, whose expertise and experience includes organisational diversity, equity and inclusion, it’s crucial that any discussion around the issue must first be careful to actually define it properly.

“Workplace wellbeing is about workplaces supporting their people to thrive in all areas of their life. It’s not just about being well at work, as life outside of work is so interconnected with life at work.”

But although the pandemic has changed the needs and expectations of workers, Ms Brownlie says that many employers have been slow to respond – if, in fact, they’ve responded at all. “I hear stories of organisations asking all their people to come back into the office as though nothing has changed. People want flexibility, and organisations need to provide this, in regards to hours, location, and even role responsibilities. If they don’t, people will leave.”

She points to the NZ Workplace Barometer, a research survey operated by Massey University’s Healthy Work Group, as a particularly strong indicator of how the broader population is feeling. The survey charts a longitudinal record of the general health – mental, physical and psychosocial – of the New Zealand workforce, comparing these metrics against expected ranges and historic results. Released last year, the most recent report found that while overall workplace wellbeing wasn’t quite at dangerously low levels, there are certainly areas where employers need to far better anticipate and meet their employees’ needs. 

The kōrero held within this episode spans a range of key topics in this conversation, from the need for workers to be better protected against violence and harassment to the general inequity in how we discuss and respond to issues of workplace wellbeing – and the idea that people doing low-paid or physical work have just as much right to these considerations as those in higher-paid professions. And while Ms Brownlie and Ms Mackintosh each bring a markedly different background and perspective to the kōrero, both agree that achieving meaningful improvement will require a concerted, high-level effort.

“Systemic change is needed to improve wellbeing for all our people, and more of a focus on preventative rather than curative initiatives,” says Ms Brownlie. “Organisations need to allow people to bring their whole selves to work, have some focus on equity and Te Tiriti, create spaces where their people can connect, and actually ask their people what they want.”

Improving workplace wellbeing will take time, and in some cases may even require a fundamental reframing of how we discuss and approach the topic. “Mindfulness workshops and free fruit have their place,” acknowledges Ms Brownlie, but she’s also adamant a more holistic and substantial approach is needed to drive actual change. This episode of Conversations that Count – Ngā Kōrero Whai Take looks at what that actually means, how it can happen, and how we’d all benefit from it.

Follow Conversations that Count – Ngā Kōrero Whai Take on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.

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