How HR can crack health and wellness

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Health and wellness programs are becoming a top concern for many Kiwi HR professionals but getting employees engaged  is no easy task – so how do you do it? Here, HRM spoke to one national wellness advisor after her organization picked up an award for its highly effective approach.

“In 2009, acknowledging deteriorating Māori health statistics, employees at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa initiated an internal research project to consider development of a unique wellbeing programme to suit the needs of our people,” reveals Hamilton-based Tuihana Ohia.

The nationwide education institution has a workforce of around 1,400 employees – around 70 per cent of those identify as Māori. National wellness advisor Ohia told HRM that the organization knew it was important to identify the areas of greatest need as well as the strategies that would be most appropriate and engaging.

“Within our communities, we had an acceptance that larger body sizes were the norm; exercise was considered the domain of youngsters; deep fried foods, white bread and fizzy drinks were staples, smoking was acceptable, a health ailment of some kind was standard and visits to the doctor were avoided,” she reveals.

“We understood that, if change was to occur, it would need to extend beyond the tea rooms and corridors of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa to the communities within which our people lived, to the kitchens at home and on marae and to the choices that our people made on a daily basis,” she continued.

“For a wellbeing programme to be successful, Te Wānanga o Aotearoa understood that it would need to influence not only staff members, but also their whanau and communities,” she added.

“We saw that holistic wellness was not just about individuals but, by its very nature, also included whole families as well as the communities within which employees spent their lives. 

“We could see no greater purpose than to be involved in supporting our people and their whānau in communities throughout Aotearoa New Zealand to overcome poor lifestyle choices, crippling illnesses and early death.  It was from these awakenings that a unique holistic wellbeing model was formed and Tau Ora was born.”

The model, Tau Ora, recently picked up the Human Resources Institute of New Zealand (HRINZ) Award for Health, Safety and Wellbeing.

“The benefits that Tau Ora provides to our employees are not only exciting but also far-reaching,” says Ohia, who adds that anecdotal evidence suggests the program is not only producing personal wellness in employees but also extending into families with improved nutrition and increased fitness.

“As we suspected, employees are now sharing their new knowledge with the whānau and communities in which they live, work and play,” she told HRM.

“Tau Ora has also changed attitudes towards wellness,” she added. “Employees report that Tau Ora has changed their attitude from one where health and fitness were chores to them now being a positive part of daily lives.”

Just a few of the methods adopted include installing gyms across various locations, employing EAP services, implementing nation-wide daily warm-up exercises and introducing a focus on health eating which Ohia says has spread across the organization.

“This has become evident in the choice of food (kai) now provided at meetings (hui),” she told HRM. “Traditionally, hospitality was judged by the kai provided by a host, with quantity or abundance often being valued over quality.  Since the introduction of Tau Ora, choices of kai at hui has shifted towards providing lighter, healthier options with an emphasis on vegetables and fruit.  This is a substantial shift.”

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