1. Home
  2. Case studies
  3. Wellbeing unfurled at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa

Wellbeing unfurled at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa

Eating well and staying active is now a normal part of the day for most staff at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, thanks to Tau Ora, a holistic wellbeing programme the tertiary institution developed for its 1600 kaimahi (staff). It’s been so successful, Te Wānanga o Aotearoa won the 2016 HRINZ award for Health, Safety and Wellbeing.

Back in 2009, Te Wānanga o Aotearoa knew it needed to do something to help its staff. The tertiary educational institution – the country’s second largest – had just worked through a major restructure and was under the direction of a government caretaker.

Staff morale was not good. In addition, increasing rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and smoking among its predominantly Māori staff were causing real concern. "We had an acceptance that savouries and fried food for meetings were the norm and exercise was for young people," says Harata Samuel, the Wānanga’s Lead for Environment, Safety and Wellness.

“We needed to come up with an initiative for change within our staff and beyond, influencing their families and communities. We coordinated a special project to develop our own wellbeing programme suited to our people that would influence the choices we make each day.”

Te Punga Oranga

The result was Te Punga Oranga. It’s a holistic wellness model based on the analogy of a fern – it starts as a tiny seed, and when its fronds unfurl it 'brings forth a vision of wellbeing'. Each of those eight fronds incorporates a fundamental component of positive wellbeing.

1.0 Wellplace In Article Images 730x4802 Flow Diagram

Te Punga Oranga forms the foundation of all the Wānanga’s health and safety and wellbeing programmes and initiatives, including Tau Ora (translating as 'positive health and wellbeing').

1.0 Wellplace In Article Images 730x480 TauoraTau Ora

“We knew that working in teams and the friendly rivalry from that would get the people in our organisation going,” says Harata.

“We knew incentives, such as giveaways, would boost engagement. We also knew we needed to keep the cost of participation for our employees minimal or non-existent."

After much brainstorming, Tau Ora was developed with the following features:

  • A starter pack that included a pedometer, a backpack and other giveaways, such as socks.
  • A range of health checks to help people set a baseline for their health.
  • A 12-week pedometer-based hīkoi (walking) challenge – hosted through winter when people were least likely to be active.
  • Health promotion days where mainstream and iwi health providers came to the Wānanga’s main sites for health tests such as blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
  • Workshops around motivation and inspiration – the workshops now include nutrition and other subjects participants are interested in.
  • A warrant of fitness card with activities to be completed as the participant progresses through the course.
  • A finishing pack, including a t-shirt and certificate to give them a sense of achievement on completion.

“Tau Ora’s greatest strength is its ability to deal with the causes of ill-health rather than the consequences. And that it builds unity, or kotahitanga, among the staff as they support each other,” says Harata.

“But there’s still the competitive spirit which is another key to our success. Half our staff joined Tau Ora that first year in 2009, and the numbers continue to increase each year. We believe this is in part due to our competitive spirit.”


To keep that team focus, Harata says communication is critical. Tau Ora has its own website through which participants can access information, participate in challenges, earn badges and log their own progress.

“We have a strong Tau Ora presence on our intranet site, Te Kete, and in the organisational e-pānui (newsletter) that goes out to all staff. And we use a Facebook page to showcase what’s on offer. It’s also a great forum for our participants to post pics, make comments and share their experiences.”


That communication is assisted by volunteer Tau Ora champions at most sites who coordinate, implement and promote the many Tau Ora offerings.

They encourage people to participate and attend Tau Ora events, such as the presentations, health checks, workshops and health promotion days. They are also the Tau Ora team’s ears around the country, feeding back participants' suggestions.

Support from the top

A critical element of any workplace wellbeing programme is support from senior management.

Not only have the Wānanga’s senior managers included Tau Ora in several of its strategies - including its People Strategy as its Empowered Workforce priority - they're putting their bodies behind it.

“We’ve had great buy-in,” says Harata. “Our CEO and senior managers are leading from the front and have participated and completed the programme. They’ve changed their own eating and activity habits – some have even done the TriMāori and Iron Māori competitions!”

Harata says the managers have been key in enabling massive changes in the workplace environment, including making all sites smokefree – resulting in fewer staff smoking – and phasing out sugary drinks, replacing them with healthier options. Snack vending machines are next on the list.

Changed attitudes

Changes around kai (food) are stretching further. Harata says Tau Ora’s focus on healthy eating has spread into how the Wānanga host its manuhiri (guests).

“The food we serve has changed,” she says. “Traditionally, hospitality was judged on food, and abundance was valued over quality. Now our kai choices have shifted towards providing healthier options with an emphasis on vegetables and fruit. That’s a big shift!”

Staff say they now consider health and fitness to be a positive part of their daily lives, and no longer a chore. They report their improved wellbeing means they have less illness, particularly chronic illness, which means they should have a better quality of life – and more of it.

Putting some figures around it:

  • Annual sick leave is down by four hours per person
  • 62% of people say they are more focused at work
  • 56% say they try harder at work
  • 54% feel more efficient and productive.

These changes deserve to be celebrated and the Wānanga takes that seriously, offering its congratulations to those who have excelled or had a particularly challenging journey in an annual awards ceremony event.

Feedback and development

The Wānanga uses several methods to hear how participants feel about Tau Ora and workplace wellbeing in general.

Its surveys ask participants their thoughts on how the organisation regards their wellbeing, and their ideas on how that affects their productivity and performance. About a quarter (200 to-300) of staff usually respond.

“We also hold an annual focus group to amend and improve Tau Ora, inviting representatives from around the country. They feedback from their sites as to areas of improvement, innovative thoughts and ideas they may have," says Harata.

“The voices they bring with them are many and represent the majority of our organisation. From this we plan and develop Tau Ora for the following year.”

Eight years and counting…

Harata says it’s partly having the staff voice in there – along with management buy-in – that’s kept Tau Ora going stronger than ever into its eighth year (2016). “We care about the programme and the people. This is what drives us and makes the programme a success. The programme motivates our staff and gives them the ability to mould their wellbeing journey in a way that suits them.

“The key is that a happy, healthy team is a high-performing team, and a happy, healthy organisation is a high-performing organisation. Tau Ora is now a natural and embedded part of our organisation and is the seed from which all this has grown.”



icon-appleicon-bullhornicon-calendar-dateicon-calendar-month-simpleicon-calendar-monthicon-chevron-downicon-chevron-lefticon-chevron-righticon-chevron-upicon-closeicon-cocktailicon-document-barcharticon-document-texticon-downloadicon-eyeicon-facebookicon-homeInformtion icon purpleidea icon Purpleicon-linkedinicon-magnifyicon-mind-cogicon-new-targeticon-no-smokingicon-person-walkingicon-play-cricleicon-sunicon-tickicon-twitter