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Rotorua Lakes Council finds gold in staff wellbeing

Seven years of focusing on wellbeing – even through challenging times – has notched up notable improvements at Rotorua Lakes Council.

Adrienne Thomas, the council’s health and safety lead and wellbeing committee chair, says back in 2011 they realized the wellbeing work they were doing was ad hoc. “We just did things we thought would help, but our initiatives had no real collective purpose, objectives or measurements. We didn’t really know if they were what the staff wanted.

“We looked around for a wellbeing programme that fit our needs in terms of cost and organisational objectives.”

Adrienne says they then came across WorkWell, run by Toi Te Ora Public Health in the Bay of Plenty. “It fit us because it was a local provider with an accredited programme, with a good framework, free resources and would help us measure the impact of our efforts. We got the go-ahead from our leadership to give it a go.”

The programme supports signed-up workplaces through a framework designed to meet what the staff want to achieve in the areas of organizational, environmental and individual change to improve wellbeing. Organisations can work towards bronze, silver and gold accreditation. Rotorua Lakes Council achieved gold in February 2018.

“We established a committee made up with volunteers from all aspects of our business to inform our wellbeing work. We meet every six weeks. “They’re really motivated people who do this work on top of their own jobs,” says Adrienne.

Eat well, move more, smokefree

Back at the start, after engaging with staff that a new wellbeing programme was coming, Adrienne says they ran the WorkWell staff survey, with a 66% response rate. “A whole lot of things came out but we picked three to work towards bronze with: move more, eat less, and smokefree.

“Some of the smaller things staff asked about – cleaner bathrooms, for example – we were able to fix quickly. This was good because we could show staff we were listening and responding.”

She says an important part of the wellbeing programme was making sure staff had access to facilities for physical activity. “We have been able to secure corporate discounts for local gyms and fitness groups. Staff can also use the local aquatic centre and we subsidise groups that want to enter sports events.” Those sports events include the Rotorua Mountainbike Moonride March 2018, pictured below.

“We also trained stop smoking coaches in-house and coordinated our smokefree policies. At the time we had about 15 smokefree policies, all different for each building and all in need of updating. We reviewed them and created one comprehensive policy. Now, aside from one small designated smoking area for patrons at the convention centre, our buildings are all smokefree.”

The council also made its parks, reserves and bus shelters smokefree. “We have a lot of tourists so it’s challenging to make the changes in public spaces, but we’re getting there,” Adrienne says.

In terms of eating well, they reviewed what was offered in the cafes on different sites and worked with catering companies to make improvements. “We moved sweet and unhealthy choices to the bottom shelves out of eyeline, and minimized or got rid of most sugar sweetened beverages.”

Alcohol and other drugs, sun safety

For silver, a second staff survey in 2013 (62% response rate) showed a desire to focus on being alcohol and drug free, and sun safety. However, 2014 was a year of organizational change.

“All our jobs were being reshaped – even mine – so there was a lot of uncertainty. Of course this was the time when focusing on wellbeing was really important, so we kept these things ticking along as much as we could. We also promoted our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) heavily and made sure employees knew their managers were available if they needed to talk.”

In April 2015 the council brought in a drug and alcohol policy with five clauses for testing, including random testing for everyone. “We took our time implementing this policy so everyone had time to think and talk about it. There was a lot of consultation with staff and they shared their thoughts in developing the policy.

For sun safety – which Adrienne says is being kicked off again for summer – they gave away free sunscreen, added the Sun Protection Alert to the council’s intranet and promoted the uv2Day app for smart phones. For staff who regularly work outside they provide sunglasses, hats, sunscreen and clothing, and where possible they schedule work outside of peak sunshine hours.

The council has also negotiated a discounted rate for staff to have their moles mapped at work. They also have sunscreen freely available at all sites for staff.

Policies for alcohol consumption were challenging as the council’s business units are so varied. One area where an alcohol-free policy may be obvious (waste water, for example) may not be so easy to implement in other areas (such as the convention or events centre). But they have made changes to reduce the risk of harmful drinking.

“We also had social club events on site every couple of months but now these events are held at off site locations. We do still have alcohol in some situations, like when entertaining visitors in the Civic Centre building, but it’s all tightly controlled.

On the road to achieving silver, the council bought bikes and helmets for staff to use to get to meetings, and supported teams to run the Ekiden, a round-the-lake relay race – “great for team building and bonding”.

Mental wellbeing, immunisation

To achieve gold the council ran a third survey. This one picked up mental wellbeing and immunisation and infection control as the focus areas to implement, while also maintaining all the wellbeing areas from the bronze and silver accreditation.

“Our work with immunisation and infection control was mostly around hygiene, free flu vaccinations – which we’ve always done – and trying to educate people not to come to work sick.”

For mental wellbeing they promoted the five ways to wellbeing and supported national campaigns. “We’ve been trying to make it easy for people to share their stories. We got a new EAP provider last year and they have lots of resources online that managers can access around depression and anxiety, and recognizing that someone’s state of mind is really important in relation to their work. It’s an educational process for everyone.”

Adrienne says, while they have a plan, it’s a living document so things like a spontaneous “Fun at Work Day” can pop up and be supported. “Someone will have a good idea and we’ll just do it. For example, we ran some raffles to support Men’s Health and Breast Cancer – staff donated the prizes and the proceeds went to charity. We also bought some fruit bowls for people who had more fruit or vegetables than they needed, so they can share the excess in the bowls. People love it – it’s often the no or low cost things that get people on board.”

She says over the seven years and seven focus areas, the organization has seen many improvements they can tie directly or indirectly to their wellbeing work.

Staff exercise more and smoke less, they take fewer sick days and suffer fewer injuries. They eat better at work and get their skin checked. They can attend regular toolbox talks when the occupational health nurse visits, and talk to her about anything that’s worrying them.

“We talk about workplace wellbeing a lot, right from induction,” Adrienne says. “We do something every month at least so we’ve done a lot over the past seven years. But we have no intention of slowing down, not when we can see the results and benefits.

“We spend a lot of time at work so it’s good to be able to make some easy wellbeing wins while our people are here. And if they can take that back to their families that’s great too.”

To learn more about how the Rotorua Lakes Council achieved its wellbeing gains, please contact Adrienne.

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