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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Stepping up

ANGELA GREGORY discovers friendly rivalry and jelly wrestlers in an Auckland company’s staff wellness initiative.

For a while last year, some of the top level meetings at Metrowater were a walk in the park.

So motivated were the company’s executives to compete in a staff wellness scheme they’d take to having their meetings on the hoof, around the fields next to their Mt Albert headquarters, to keep up their pedometer counts.

Metrowater’s chief executive Tim Hammond was among those keen to participate, and had sent out a challenge to the Metrowater staff from the executive team. “We wanted to make it a bit more competitive so got the leadership involved…and it was a chance to have fun. A team of engineers was particularly keen to take on the old men.”

In July 2008 Metrowater had launched a PL Health Lifestyle Steps © programme. It was a six-week-long initiative aimed at educating and encouraging staff to make the right lifestyle choices.

Teams of five or six people recorded their pedometer steps, minutes of heart raising exercise (the sort that makes you puff) and lifestyle choices around nutrition, sleep and hydration. They accumulated points on a dedicated website, where a large number could be scored by anyone who gave up smoking.

In all, 23 teams were formed representing 119 people. The staff had been left to create their own teams which largely formed around natural work groups. They could track individual member progress, and the scores of rival teams on the shared website.

Egging on

Hammond says management participation raised the wellness programme’s profile.

Much email banter, outlandish claims and generally “having each other on” ensued throughout the company. “There was a bit of a buzz.”

Hammond believes it was that combination of competition, leadership and team participation which was the key to the programme’s success, after previous lukewarm results from wellness initiatives.

Within the teams there was buddying and coaching, with members egging each other on. “The dynamics inside the teams drove them on.” And a positive side-benefit was the improved communications between different areas of the business, which employs about 170 staff.

Hammond says there is a continual focus and effort around health and safety at Metrowater. “We want to embed it in the culture of the organisation.”

The key was to engage staff, to make sure health and safety comes alive and meant something across the organisation, not just field crews. “So it’s about a wellness initiative that becomes personal to people…goes beyond work to home-time, and lifestyle, in a broader holistic view.”

Turning the corner

Chayne Zinsli, health safety and natural resources manager, said few of the staff had physically active roles. The majority are office-based and half had admitted to little or no regular exercise, with 57 percent recording a BMI greater than the ideal.

Previous attempts to introduce wellness programmes had not had great uptake, and although some improvements were made, they did not seem to be meeting the needs of the staff.

The goal last year was to achieve at least 75 percent participation on the main element of the programme (Lifestyle Steps), and encouragingly 79 percent was achieved. It was this improvement which was noted this year by the judges of the New Zealand Workplace Health and Safety Awards, impressed that Metrowater was not deterred by its earlier setbacks. The company won Officemax best initiative to improve employee wellness, a category which covers broader, more holistic initiatives to address health issues like stress, fatigue, fitness and nutrition.

Support, motivate, achieve

Zinsli says the three key elements for success were identified as peer support, constant motivation and achievable goals.

A program was needed which required team participation, to minimise any perceived risk in participating while maximising support. Constant motivation was required given the high attrition rates of the past, exposing the need for constant reminders and encouragement to maintain momentum. Lastly it needed goals that seemed possible, not like expectations to run marathons.

“It is about getting people moving from being passive to active, and taking personal responsibility.”

Zinsli says six weeks was viewed as a long enough time to focus people and get them going, without seeming too onerous or off-putting from the start. The timing was also aimed to links in with upcoming marathons for the more ambitious.

Teams help with motivation and support which are impossible to deliver on one-to-one basis. There is also a mixture of prizes and accolades, so it is not just about the top scorers but also the most improved.

Zinsli says a survey of staff afterwards gave positive feedback. “Some people had made real lifestyle changes.”

He says Metrowater has had a high turnover of staff and good wellness programs tend to reduce that, with improvements in morale and more positive attitudes to the workplace. It is perhaps no coincidence then that after the wellness programme Metrowater was voted most improved medium-to-large work place in the JRA Best Places to Work survey.


Kerri McMaster, managing director PL Health (Performance Lab), which implements the PL Health Lifestyle Steps© programme, says staff interest is first piqued in the health assessments.

The challenge is to then harness and maintain that interest. One challenge was that although Metrowater was roughly split between men and women, it was very culturally diverse. “Activity for some is a foreign concept.”

Hence the pedometers, something of a novelty item which can measure the activity you normally do, and teamwork to offer support within a group.


  • • 
    79 percent believed being on a team helped to motivate them
  • • 
    84 percent felt the program encouraged them to improve their daily lifestyle
  • • 
    75 percent had a better view of Metrowater as an employer
  • • 
    84 percent believed their health had improved
  • • 
    98 percent planned to continue to improve their health
  • • 
    98 percent said would join the program again.


  • • 
    “I loved the programme. I lost 4kg just changing my lifestyle.”
  • • 
    “The fact you earned points for making lifestyle and active choices motivated me to at least try to make them.”
  • • 
    “It was most entertaining and thoroughly enjoyed, especially the banter with others over the challenge.”


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