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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

Person, family, community

PETER BATEMAN meets a wellbeing champion whose perspective has been shaped in part by her years working in adolescent health.

People from outside the strict boundaries of a discipline can often use their fresh thinking to illuminate new ways forward. The problem is one of persuasion: of the outsider that they have something of value to offer, and of the members of the discipline to open their minds.

I find Phillipa Bennetts grappling with imposter syndrome when I meet her at the Warehouse Group’s head office in Northcote. The company’s wellbeing support manager, she is to speak in a couple of weeks at the HealthyWork conference and is worried because she doesn’t come from a recognised wellbeing background.

After an hour’s chat it becomes clear that her insights into emotional health, identifying in-house champions and finding community connections will find a ready audience at the upcoming conference.

A registered nurse for 40 years, she spent 25 years at Greenlane Hospital working in cardiothoracic intensive care. When the unit transferred to Auckland Hospital she couldn’t face the move and tried other things, including going back to university for more study to boost her lobbying for more nurses in schools to support adolescent health. She ended up spending 11 years in adolescent health, where she learned that a successful intervention could not focus only on the child but had to include their family and wider community.

One day she was at a presentation where The Warehouse was donating laptops to a low-decile secondary school. She chatted to the man standing next to her, who asked how she would go about translating her adolescent health ideas into a commercial workplace. Paul Walsh, the Warehouse Group’s executive GM Community & Environment, was sufficiently intrigued by her response that he pestered her for weeks.

“We had some robust debates about what health in a workplace is. By the end of 2013 I was needing a change. I said I’ll come and work for you for three months.”


Her positioning within the community and environment team is deliberate. She does not sit within HR or H&S, but attends regular meetings with both teams to ensure coordination and avoid duplication. “Sometimes I can be a devil’s advocate with my health background. At the beginning I thought I could bring my world of health into here, seamlessly.”

Not so fast. Bennetts is quick to acknowledge she soon learned two things: the need for a wellbeing framework, and to properly understand the business. After several months she settled on the WHO Healthy Workplace Framework and asked herself: what would this look like here?

The answer began to emerge from her immersion within the company, which actively looks for ways to engage and partner with its local communities. The ten cent bag charge, for instance, goes to a local charity selected by each local store.

Next up was to run a pilot programme in four stores selected for her. (Important lesson there: the stores have to select themselves – wellbeing is a want-to, not a have-to proposition.)

Probably the key outcome of the pilot was that with 92 stores, there are 92 ways to implement a framework. “You take all the evidence-base that the academics say leads to success and sustainable change, but when you start working with people and what underpins their health, you need to take that person in the context of their working environment, their whānau, their community.”

Bennetts reveals her biggest learning has been the truth of Dr Mason Durie’s te whare tapa whā model of Māori health, encompassing physical, emotional, social and spiritual health.

“Until we get people’s emotional health in the right place we won’t be able to get sustainable health outcomes.”

Health, she says, has mostly been regarded as to do with physical health, but the determinants of health are much wider, and yet most people don’t look at their own wellbeing in that broader context. People who smoke, or drink to excess, or play computer games to all hours of the morning know very well that they are not making wise choices for their health. “Why do they choose to do those things? Because of other things going on in their life.”


In 2015 the centrality of emotional health led her to the Mental Health Foundation’s Five Ways to Wellbeing model, and this year an event occurred which ticked all five boxes. Most stores participated in The Great Community Clean-Up, a partnership between Neighbourly and The Warehouse. Many people, says Bennetts, walked five to ten kilometres that day. People walked down to their local stream, some for the first time in years. “This one activity ticked all five of those boxes. We can build on these kinds of activities to create a healthy emotional work culture to enable people to begin to look at their healthy choices.”

Another key learning is to help connect people to useful health practices already going on in their community. She cites the Ministry of Health’s Healthy Families initiative, which is happening in ten locations around the country, each of which happens to have a Warehouse store. The initiative is about enabling workplaces and schools to be aware of what their community has to offer to improve health outcomes.

“It’s not just about what The Warehouse can do for our team, but what we can do for our customers and their communities. We are a significant presence in many communities. How do we become a place of health promotion?”

She cites an example from Invercargill, where Healthy Families came up with a healthier recipe for barbeques and the local Warehouse store piloted it, using wholegrain bread, more vegetables, and a reduced-sugar sauce. The response was positive. Result? From January, all barbeques at the Invercargill branch will be like this.


Another learning: keep it simple and pain-free, because the stores are a fast-paced working environment where change is constant and everyone is busy. Bennetts has boiled down the wellbeing framework to five pieces of paper: two to read, two to write on (once), and one each store’s wellbeing plan for the year. And she has learned there’s no point in shoulder-tapping someone in each store to be the wellbeing champion. Instead, such people need to be identified and nurtured organically, as they emerge over time. It’s not a process to be rushed, which explains why each of the 92 stores is at a different stage on the journey.

“You have to find the person who has a passion for people to be well, so they are happy to integrate this philosophy into their daily life.”

As well as a true passion, the wellbeing champion – “you have to have a title, otherwise nothing gets done” – must be happy to delegate tasks that colleagues would be happy to do, so the programme becomes sustainable.

Bennetts’ view is that work is a significant contributor to people’s overall happiness, and that a business that wishes to be successful needs to value the equity in its people.

“People spend a third of their lives at work, so we have got to integrate health into our business model. As a want-to, not as a have-to. And you find the people with the passion to do this.”


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