Sanford Limited’s Timaru site manager believes the fisheries company has become an employer of choice in the city, thanks in part to its wide-ranging and well-entrenched wellbeing programme.
Grant Day says his Timaru site has been on “quite a journey” since it introduced WorkWell at the end of 2014, renaming it ‘SanWell’ to fit with Sanford's brand.
Since that time the site’s become a shining example of the programme. In 2016 the Timaru site achieved WorkWell’s Bronze level accreditation, then Silver a year later, with Gold anticipated for 2018. Sanford’s other New Zealand sites followed Timaru’s example and have also now started on their SanWell journey.
Sanford’s SanWell journey began when a local DHB representative asked Grant if he was interested in joining WorkWell. “We’d run our own survey that showed engagement was lower than we would like. We saw straight away WorkWell would be a real engagement opportunity. And as our average employee age is 43, we needed to do more to keep our people well and working,” says Grant.
“At the beginning, the workwell staff survey identified that the three things our team were most concerned about was improving physical activity, mental wellbeing and healthy eating. So we started there.”
Grant stresses that Sanford management doesn’t run Sanwell – the workers do, through a subcommittee of the site’s Health and Safety committee. Grant is on it but says he’s there only to guide, make suggestions and provide funding when necessary.
Grant says their initiatives aimed at improving physical activity are “a whole lot of fun” and get a lot of engagement.
“We ran Bikewise month [in February] for the second time this year. We’ve had to put in extra bike racks because so many people wanted to cycle. We organised discounts at a local bike shop for helmets and lights, etc. We didn’t run it as a competition, although there was some healthy banter around how many kilometres riders did.”
Grant says that enthusiasm continues. “We see lot of people biking over summer and some continue through winter. But the winters here are cold and icy, which can put people off. We encourage people to walk too, or at least to park about a kilometre away and walk the last part to work.
Grant says there was strong demand for mental wellbeing information, so the Timaru site used the Australian programme, Mates in Construction, renaming it 'Friends in Fishing'.
“So far we’ve run two workshops and there’s strong demand to run it again. After the one-hour session, we had lots of people volunteer to be trained as connectors who help our people get the right support.
“I believe we’ve had some success. We’ve had some employees with challenges and we’ve worked through their issues with them. It’s hard to quantify, but with people caring and feeling confident to make phone calls or sit down for a chat, we believe it’s made a difference.”
Sanford’s Timaru site has its own café and Grant says the wellbeing committee’s made an impact there.
“We’ve increased the healthy options on offer. We’ve put salads on the menu, and hearty homemade soups that are popular in the winter. We still have pies and chips but we’ve tried to cut down on portion sizes and encourage people towards other options.
“We tried ‘fat-free Friday’ but got pushback on that. People wanted flexibility – for example, if they’d eaten healthily all week they wanted the ability to eat chips on a Friday.”
Sugary drinks may be next on the hitlist. “They are one of our biggest challenges,” Grant says. “We have water coolers on site and we’ve done a bit of work on sugary drinks, but my gut feeling (no pun intended) is we need to do more.”
The benefits of SanWell go beyond the worksite, although the feel-good factor sheets back to employees.
“Sanford is a big supporter of the Graeme Dingle Foundation, especially its Kiwi Can programme,” says Grant. “In 2017 we did a planting day at Caroline Bay. A team of our workforce went there with about 100 kids, planting tussocks in the sand dunes. We’ve also had people cleaning up the scenic reserve in town.”
The site gets involved in community fundraisers too, often pulling on a coloured t-shirt to highlight campaign days. “We’ve had potluck lunches for Pink Shirt Day, Daffodil day, Movember, and Men’s Health Month in June, for example,” says Grant.
Judging by Grant’s enthusiasm, perhaps the most entertaining community outing was 2018’s Soap Box Derby to raise money for Movember.
“We bought three soap box derby carts and we raced them. We had a nightshift team, a dayshift team and a kids' team. We got 2nd and 5th, while the kids got 12th, so it went really well. We were pretty happy – the teams were buzzing.
“Doing the derby ticked a lot of boxes. We got some physical activity and great engagement, and all for a good cause.”
As part of SanWell, certain staff have gone through a ‘Keep it Fresh’ course. “It’s things like learning about wills and credit cards – real-life maths and literacy skills, with a strong health and safety focus. We’ve had about 50 employees through so far.
“The kicker is at the end they must stand up in front of a large group of people and present a group project. These guys have mostly never spoken in public before. It’s awesome what they do.
“One group’s topic was ‘Why we work at Sanford’, listing off all the good things about working here. It was a huge list, like the subsidised food in canteen, monthly morning-tea shouts, fun activities like getting involved with school projects.”
Recruitment and retention
Grant’s retention stats show staff do indeed feel it’s good to work there. “Unemployment in Timaru is less than 3% so we need to do things differently to attract and retain good people.
“We now have a skilled and stable workforce, and we often get people coming to us saying they’ve heard good things and might like to work there.
“Our absenteeism rate is improving, especially for Mondays and Fridays. We’re seeing people being genuine about illness and more communicative if they have a health issue. They know we’ll accommodate them for doctors’ appointments or to get support. The trust is there.”
“Our SanWell programme also ties in neatly with Sanford’s health and safety focus. All our projects are now merging together with great results.
“It’s not one thing – it’s every bit of what we do that plays a strong part in engaging with our Sanford workforce.”