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Structuring for strong mental wellbeing at Kiwibank

In 2014 Kiwibank underwent its first major bank-wide restructure since it was established in 2002.

“After 12 years as a business, the bank recognised it needed to move in a new direction to better meet our customers' needs in an increasingly digital age,” said Julie Barber, Kiwibank’s Safety and Wellbeing Specialist.

This new direction required a major mindset and culture shift in how the business operates and how its people work. Because a number of roles required different skill sets people had to reapply for their role or take redundancy, as active recruitment was taking place.

In addition, teams and working relationships were being re-formed in an environment of constant change while maintaining business as usual. This all created varying degrees of uncertainty and upheaval for people, many of whom had been with the business since its inception.

To actively support mental wellbeing of people through this period of significant change, Kiwibank implemented a number of initiatives.

1. Involving employees in the design process

Kiwibank's people were widely consulted and encouraged to be actively involved in the design of the new business over the six-month period of restructuring, giving them better ownership of the process.

2. Resilience workshops

Kiwibank worked with a group of registered clinical psychologists skilled in change management who also had an in-depth understanding of Kiwibank. The psychologists ran resilience workshops to provide the bank's people with the skills to manage what they were experiencing and to adapt to change.

This included pilot workshops to develop and tailor the content specific to Kiwibank's needs. Adaptions and tweaks applied, all Kiwibankers were invited to attend a four-hour workshop.

While most were run in Wellington – with people flown in to attend – some were run in the regions. “It was totally voluntary but we supported anyone who wanted to come to the workshops to go,” says Julie. “In the end we ran about 45 workshops, with about 16-20 participants attending each session.

"The workshops were designed to be interactive, to give information but also build adaptive resilience skills. Each workshop was unique depending on the dynamic of the group, and the facilitators were very skilled at playing to the strengths of the people in each workshop,” says Julie.

She says an important component in the workshops was letting people know that what they were feeling – stress, anxiety, sadness – was perfectly normal and okay.

“The workshops also helped them understand the physiological processes behind the stress response. Once people understood that, they were better equipped to deal with it and apply management strategies, such as meditation and mindfulness, which help close down areas of the brain that respond to stress.”

3. Supporting leaders to support their people

Kiwibank also recognised that leaders had their own set of stressors. Not only were they dealing with their own personal situations, they were also supporting their teams through the process.

In addition to the resilience workshops, Kiwibank offered a programme designed specifically for leaders and people leaders called “Change Surfer”. Run by a motivational facilitator, this gave the leaders additional skills to support their teams and themselves through the restructuring process.

EAP onsite

In addition to normal access, EAP (Employee Assistance Programmes) services were brought onsite in the main centres on days when major announcements were made.

“They were there to act as personal support for the affected people. A number of people took up the opportunity, so it was a valuable thing to do,” says Julie.

A positive outcome

Julie believes the special attention Kiwibank paid to ensuring its people’s good mental wellbeing throughout its restructuring was most definitely worth the investment.

“The feedback was extremely positive. People felt they were better equipped with the skills to deal with what they were going through. We were all dealing with an unknown, but what we did enabled our people to feel more supported and more agile to deal with the changes. I also think it opened up a pathway for us to talk about mental wellbeing generally.”

Julie says Kiwibank provided the mental wellbeing support because it values its people. “Just because we had to change the way the business operates to better meet customers' needs while still staying profitable, didn’t mean we couldn't do it in an ethical manner."

However, supporting mental wellbeing is only part of the company's wider innovative wellbeing programme. The programme offers its workforce relevant and accessible wellbeing options based on what its people have told them they want and need. It also provides extra support when another need is identified (such as mental wellbeing during restructuring).

"That’s always the basis of what we do. Our people are first and foremost. It’s the wellbeing of our people that matters most because if you haven’t got that, you haven’t got a business.” says Julie.

“Just because we had to change the way the business operates to better meet customers' needs while still staying profitable, didn’t mean we couldn't do it in an ethical manner. Our people are first and foremost. It’s the wellbeing of our people that matters most because if you haven’t got that, you haven’t got a business.”

Julie Barber, Kiwibank
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