What a happy and healthy workplace looks like

11. Jackie Mead

Jackie Mead is the Director of People, Culture and Information Systems with Berry Street, an organisation with 1000 staff spread across Victoria and delivering a range of services  to the state’s most vulnerable children and families. With such challenging clients, Berry Street has recently implemented a highly innovative health and wellbeing program to increase staff retention, and Jackie will be sharing the lessons from that program at the Not-for-Profit People Conference on August 27-28, 2013.

“I love working in a not-for-profit because . . .”

You are valued for who you are, not just the role you perform. Based on my strengths and interests I have had opportunities to contribute to areas that would not normally sit within my role.  Organisations often talk about helping staff reach their potential. I think the NFP sector are really great at doing this because they just can’t afford to let skills, ideas and passion go to waste. It makes for a very fulfilling career.

What do you do at Berry Street?

At Berry Street I have responsibility for Human Resources, Learning and Development, Corporate Quality and Risk, Records Management and Information Technology. There is plenty of variety in that!

Berry Street has been implementing an innovative health and wellbeing strategy – tell us more!

Berry Street has always had a focus on the wellbeing of our staff. Supervision, good OHS systems and sporadic attempts to engage staff in healthy activity were all part of our culture back in 2009 but we were also aware that there were particular health and wellbeing risks for our staff that were higher than the general population and that weren’t reducing. We were part of a study looking at morbidity rates for young people in our care and the study had raised issues regarding staff health as well. So we undertook a desktop review of what we had in place and what needed work and we held a forum of interested staff to hear their views. The strategy that was developed out of this was what became our Health and Wellbeing Strategy. It covers traditional areas such as OHS, incident and injury management as well as encouraging healthy choices, employee psychological support, preventative health, equality and diversity and organisation practice and expectations.  This last area included looking at role definition, communication, workload, workspace equipment such as a butcher block desk, conflict management and supervision.  It covers the guts of what happens at work on a day to day basis.

Wow – that’s a lots to cover! What was the catalyst to develop the program?

Working with our clients is challenging and there is a personal impact for many of our staff over time. Our aim with this program was to expose our staff to support, information and activities that could assist them to improve or maintain their resilience over time.  We also wanted to create an environment where we supported people to change to healthier habits.  This has required an investment of time and a change in the way we think about productivity.

What are the best parts of the program?

Local “H and WB” (Health & Wellbeing) champions can identify local projects or activities and feed them back in to a central place so they can be arranged and supported. This year that included a couple of crazy “Tough Mudder” teams, some more sedate yoga classes and some on-site massages for example. It involves some healthy competition organisation-wide, such as our “Walking Challenge”, arranging regular access to health checks, and assistance to quit smoking when requested. It has involved changing our catering to include healthy options and using our newsletter to circulate healthy recipes. And yes, it has been a terrible chore to test recipes and then eat some very yummy food!

Any difficulties implementing it?

Probably the most difficult part of the program has been to gain management buy in for our Health and Wellbeing time. Staff have access to up to two additional ½ hours per week to undertake a health and wellbeing activity. We understood that changing habits was hard and took a time commitment. We wanted to make that time available. Some staff use it to walk a few extra tram stops, or to go to see a physio but because wellbeing may be about stress reduction it has been very difficult to rule things out like grabbing the groceries so you get some extra time in with the kids when you get home. I am okay with this notion, and I think that if the staff member identifies that a change in behaviour and priorities is required to improve wellbeing it is probably worthwhile, but this has been the hardest part of the program to get buy in on.

How have you measured the impact of the program?

We have conducted an evaluation which demonstrates changed behaviour for some staff, an increased awareness for most staff and great participation in several key projects. Because we are aiming for a holistic approach, we know that lots of the things we do won’t necessarily be high profile and thats okay by us. In the longer run we hope we will be able to demonstrate that the program improves retention.

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