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Competitive spirit maximised for wellbeing

The best wellbeing initiatives are devised to suit the workforce, so the wellbeing committee at Invercargill’s Southern Cross Hospital knew just how to get their staff’s attention.

“Nurses are really competitive – we definitely wanted to take advantage of that,” says Laura Lewis, a committee member, Registered Nurse, Infection Control, and Health and Safety Coordinator at the hospital.

“Our various departments – ward, theatre, support, administration – are all really competitive with each other too. So, while it might not suit every organisation, for our workforce we knew a competition would be a great way to kick off our wellbeing programme.”

Southern Cross Invercargill Hospital’s wellbeing programme began in August 2017 after another committee member, Kelsi Ridden, the hospital’s Contract Coordinator and creator of the wellbeing programme, was discussing wellbeing with her manager.

“I have a degree in sports and nutrition so we thought it would be a good idea to utilise my background to create a workplace wellbeing programme,” Kelsi says.

“From there we formed a committee from across all areas of the hospital and started putting a programme together we felt would encompass everyone.

“We wanted to incorporate a lot of things as a whole. We decided to look at physical exercise and nutrition, as well as mental health and wellbeing,” says Kelsi. “And we wanted to include community involvement to enhance team bonding and benefit our community.”

Getting wellbeing work underway

The goal of those activities – as well as improved health and wellbeing – was a pretty decent prize pool.

“We posted a sign-up sheet on the noticeboard, and after a couple of weeks we had about 80% of staff sign up. Each person paid $10 into the prize pot,” says Laura.

While leveraging the staff’s competitive spirit, Laura and Kelsi didn’t want staff to club together with their usual workmates. “A big factor was to encourage staff to connect with others they might not necessarily know. So we randomly divided them into cross-department teams,” says Kelsi.

Then Laura used her nursing background to offer each team member voluntary pre-competition health checks.

“I did blood pressure, weight, waist circumference, cholesterol, BMI, blood sugar. If they smoked – not many did – I asked if they’d like help to stop. From there we set ground rules and created a wide-ranging system for earning points.”

The points system

Ways to score included:

  • 30 minutes of exercise = 1 point
  • Drinking 8 glasses of water a day = 1 point
  • Doing 5 minutes of mindfulness = 1 point
  • Eating 5+ fruit and vegetables a day = 1 point
  • Community work with 80% of team – 100 points (monthly)

Again, the aim was to make earning points as achievable as possible, while still improving health.

“We didn’t put limitations on what ‘exercise’ was, so it could be golf, gardening or walking to and from work, rather than it being just about the gym,” says Kelsi.

“Drinking water was something everyone could do and it wouldn’t affect their day, but had benefits. We really encouraged mindfulness as, again, it was something everyone could do. At the start we brought down mindfulness expert John Shackleton to speak to our staff. He was really inspiring.”

Working in the community

Getting out into the community was also strongly encouraged – with the incentive of 100 points.

“That feeling of giving back and doing something for the community is something that boosts wellbeing and self-esteem. Giving back to the community really gives a sense of achievement,” says Kelsi.

“Some teams baked for Hospice Southland and Ronald McDonald House. A new hospice shop was opening in Te Anau so a whole team went up, cleaned out the store and set it up,” says Laura. (See the photo at the top of this story.)

“Other staff collected for the SPCA, Pink Ribbon Day, and the Salvation Army. Teams picked up heaps of rubbish on beaches and parks, while another team did a spring clean of people’s medicine cabinets, returning old medicines to the pharmacy.”

“Having such a broad range of points available meant that if someone already did a lot of one thing – exercise, say – they would be prompted to try another healthy behaviour to earn more points,” says Kelsi. “It also meant people who struggled in some ways could gain points in other ways.”

Keeping score

At the start of the three-month competition (run from 1 August – 31 October 2017) the participants received a pack with their scorecards as well as goodies, such as a water bottle and discount vouchers. Each day they would enter their points and hand their scorecards to team leaders once a week.

Kelsi calculated the scores and updated a large tally board in a staff corridor that provided a very visual representation of which teams were winning – or lagging. The winning team collected the money, while the individual with the most points received a wellness hamper.

“Time definitely must be allocated for this in the planning stages, as otherwise it could become overwhelming for the people in charge. Once up and running it took a maximum of one hour per week to organise it, which was definitely achievable. Having the support of my manager made this possible,” says Kelsi.

After the competition finished, the voluntary health checks were conducted again. “One woman saw she lost 15kg, while others saw their cholesterol go down from eating 5+ a day and stopping snacking. It all worked really well together,” says Kelsi.

Laura says a strong element of the wellbeing programme was learning something new.

“We went to the YMCA for talks from a nutrition and sports coach – yes, you got points if you went! They talked about the importance of fruit and vegetables and water, and the impact they have on health and wellbeing, our minds and concentration.”

A winning recipe

The hospital’s wellbeing programme was so successful it won the inaugural Healthy Families Invercargill Workplace Wellbeing Award at the Southland Business Excellence Awards in September 2017.

But for 2018 the committee decided to step away from the competition to keep things fresh for staff. “Our theme was ‘Focus on yourself’, so it was about offering people things they could do to keep themselves healthy and well,” says Laura.

Among personal health and wellbeing actions, the committee turned its attention to staff meals at the hospital. “The meals available have always been relatively healthy but we improved them further, so it’s salads, wraps, vegetable filos and sandwiches on offer,” says Kelsi.

“We’re lucky enough to get free morning teas. They used to be slices and sweets but now they’re mostly chopped carrots and celery with hummus, with the occasional scone or marshmallow. We got surprisingly little pushback from staff as they understood it was better for health, and seemed happier with the healthier food.

"If staff wanted to eat other foods, they could bring them from home, so they still had choice."

Ongoing effects

The pair says 2018 built on the wellbeing activity from the 2017 competition. “People were still signing up to races and events, and more people were walking or riding to work. We’ve noticed a lot more people talking about being more active and wanting to know more about health and wellbeing. They’ve incorporated little steps into their lifestyle and they’ve become habits,” says Kelsi.

From an organisational point of view, Laura says the hospital’s management team now takes a far more holistic view of workplace wellbeing.

“When I’m in senior management meetings there’s a focus on wellbeing that wasn’t as prominent before. There are often discussions about, ‘How is this decision going to affect wellbeing?’”

The committee is grateful hospital management is very much behind its work. “Our hospital General Manager is a great promoter of what we’re doing. We couldn’t do it without her support,” says Laura.

For 2019 the committee is focusing on “hard to reach” staff. “We know there are people sitting in the corner wanting to do something but perhaps don’t have the confidence,” says Kelsi. “So our next focus is on giving these people a bit of a nudge to create some great habits.”

“We’ll also be focusing more on mental health and wellbeing, and normalising talking about mental health,” says Laura. “And we’ll keep promoting exercise, getting out in the fresh air, having good nutrition and being mindful, because it’s all so interconnected.”

For those who assume that running a wellbeing programme in a hospital is as easy as preaching to the choir – think again. “We had never had anything like this before, so like any workplace there was some hesitation at the start,” says Laura.

“But once people got involved and started having fun, more staff joined in. Now that our people know what wellbeing encompasses, that they’ve seen the results and created healthy habits, they’re interested and keen to participate.

“And perhaps best of all, there’s a much better vibe around our workplace.”

For more information, email Kelsi. 

Southern Cross Hospital Invercargill has kindly shared Word versions of the materials they used to promote and score their wellbeing challenge. Feel free to adapt the resources below to your workplace. 

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