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Z Energy takes wellbeing beyond the fruit bowl

Z Energy indeed has a fruit bowl. “Don’t completely diss the fruit bowl,” says Julie Fitzgerald, Z Energy’s Talent Manager.

“It’s a visible sign to employees that, ‘Yes, I care about you’. But if you have a fruit bowl in a culture where people are under-resourced, overworked and stressed, the extra Vitamin C isn’t going to help employees.

“It’s also not going to help your organisation improve business results or become a more attractive employment brand to recruit and retain great talent. It must be only one piece of evidence among many that you’re walking the talk about wellbeing.”

As Talent Manager for Z Energy, Julie knows how to attract and retain great people, and she knows how to keep them healthy and happy. So does Chris Eastham, Z Energy’s Health and Wellbeing Manager.

The Kiwi energy company created his position about three years ago, acknowledging how helping employees be successful is essential to being a successful business.

Chris also sits on the working group for the New Zealand Workplace Health and Wellbeing Leadership Network, which has been meeting for about the same period. Member companies include a range of global, domestic and government organisations.

Ideally there’d be no need for Chris’ role, as he says the ultimate is for wellbeing to be entrenched into every other aspect of business practice. Julie, who has 15 years’ experience with the company, says Z Energy – and Shell Oil before it – previously applied a different lens to wellbeing.

“We had a wellbeing programme that was very much clipped on. It was fun and valued but wasn’t linked to business results. When Chris came on board we started to drive wellbeing by what matters most to our business and are the greatest risks to our people,” she says.

“We still commonly talk about a wellbeing programme, a leadership programme and a health and safety-related programme being separate things,” says Chris. “The next step in maturity is to bring those things together because they’re often aimed towards the same outcomes. This way we have an approach that seamlessly supports both culture and strategy.

“Where do we at Z sit on that journey? We’re somewhere in the middle – our wellbeing programmes are more integrated into other business activities than five years ago but there’s still plenty of space to move forward.”

Mental wellbeing in the workplace

One of the spaces where Z Energy is particularly focused on moving forward is mental wellbeing.

To enable that, the company includes mental health in the company’s top priority risks. “This means mental health risks are given priority and focus at all levels of the organisation,” says Chris.

“Mental wellbeing is often on the agenda when culture and engagement are discussed. By having it recognised as a psychosocial health and safety risk, it ensures mental health is also likely to be discussed in conversations about strategy.

“This leads to new types of conversations in the business with people who might not engage so strongly with it otherwise, and a fuller understanding about the impacts of mental wellbeing at work. 

“It also sets the groundwork for people to report mental health issues so that workplaces can address management practices that contribute to distress. That all enables a stronger learning culture.”

Wellbeing includes inclusion

“I think the focus on diversity and inclusion has the potential to have a powerful impact in the workplace, although sometimes the focus can drift and become just about the ‘diversity’ or the mix because that’s easier to measure,” says Julie.

She says ‘diversity and inclusion’ is about both having a mix and making the mix work. “At Z Energy we describe ‘inclusion’ as having our people being successful being themselves. It means we can bring our full selves to work – our religious beliefs, our culture, our values, and our experiences – and we are valued for it.

“An inclusive environment is one where our people are enabled to make a greater contribution because they are heard. This helps us better identify ways we can understand our customer, improve and innovate, which is a tangible business benefit.”

Inclusion is a lens the team has applied to their wellbeing initiatives as well, Julie says. “The 10,000 step programme we used to run ended up being kind of exclusive. The marathon runners always won and everyone else started to disengage so didn’t reap the health benefits. Now we’ve been trying a programme that encourages practising healthy behaviours around eating, activity and sleep for 24 days of the month.

“For example, it could be no digital devices for an hour before bed for 24 days, or doing 20 extra minutes of physical activity a day. Anyone can do that and get value out of it. It’s more inclusive.”

Inclusion strengthens mental wellbeing

Julie says part of each employee being successful being themselves is feeling safe to share if they are experiencing mental distress so they can get support. “This is something we are still working on.”  

Chris says Z Energy now has toolkits for managers to help them have conversations about mental distress with employees, and to understand that what the person is experiencing should be considered separate to their work performance.

“We want our managers to give that person flexibility just as they would if they had a physical health condition. Until managers are comfortable doing that, people aren’t going to want to speak up for fear it will be assumed they’re not competent.”

Julie says Z Energy has just been accredited with the Rainbow Tick, a programme that benchmarks it as a friendly employer to the LGBTQI community. She’s keen to apply what they learned from that process to mental wellbeing.

“I feel like mental health is almost the next closet. I know we’re an inclusive employer and we’re up for being supportive of employees who experience mental distress, but clearly we need to say it over and over again and show our people they’re in a safe place.”

Ensuring a Fair Go

The need to feel safe is something Z Energy recognises for all employees, not just those with experience of mental distress. Borrowing from health and safety’s Just Culture principles, it’s developed a Fair Go policy. 

“People make mistakes but knowing they’ll get a Fair Go alleviates a lot of stress. Having a transparent framework for dealing with things when they don’t go well makes it easier for managers too. They know what to do when something goes wrong rather than just reacting, which is also human,” says Julie.

And that’s irrespective of how big the mistake is. “I could make a payroll keying error that results in someone being overpaid 5c or $5 million. It’s the same error caused by a human mistake, but without a Fair Go process the manager might feel like the consequences for the $5 million error need to be severe, but say, ‘Don’t worry about it’ for the 5c. With Fair Go everyone knows they will be treated fairly and what’s learned is used to help us identify gaps in our processes and improve.”

Wider wellbeing at Z

Of course, Z Energy’s wellbeing programme includes the physical with several aspects covered off for employees. In the corporate office the company provides bike racks, drying rooms, flu jabs and mole maps, and have offered hearing tests.

 “Last year, a few employees had suspect moles discovered. They wouldn’t have found otherwise, and that could have had an impact on them, their family and their team at Z. While we can measure the impact of offering flu shots, this has an impact that’s hard to measure.”

“There are many things businesses can do that statically make a difference,” says Julie. “By investing in wellbeing you get an increased engagement level as your employees think, ‘Oh, my employee does really care about me’. Creating wellbeing is about finding what matters to you, your people and to your business.”

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