Chorus has had a Wellbeing Programme since 2011, but with the accumulation of concerning national mental health statistics, data from their Employee Assistance Programme, employee surveys and anecdotal feedback, the company decided to make mental health and wellbeing at work a higher priority.
“People shared they were stressed at work and at home, experiencing depression and anxiety, as well as family issues,” Phillippa Powell, Chorus’ organisational development advisor says. Phillippa was brought on board in 2015 to look after Chorus’ wellbeing programme and ‘bring it to life’.
“We realised the nature and pace of work and life had changed and more workplace risk factors such as mental illness, stress and fatigue had started to emerge,” Phillippa says.
“I felt we weren’t getting to the heart of what was going on. We had the data to show our people were experiencing mental health challenges, but our previous efforts weren’t really addressing them. The ad hoc approach wasn’t enough. We needed a strategy,” Phillippa says.
In 2017, Chorus’ mental and health wellbeing focus was really gaining momentum after a mental health strategy was written, but they hit some roadblocks which slowed down implementation.
“Despite these efforts, change hit the organisation, so we had to adapt and support the needs of our people,” Phillippa says.
“Fortunately, we had started setting up employee social networks, and our mental health network was one of the first to get going. The timing of this network was extremely valuable as some of the members were faced with redundancy and the additional support from the network helped these employees through a mentally challenging time.”
At the beginning of 2018, Chorus refreshed their diversity and inclusion strategy (known as Belonging at Chorus) and made wellbeing a strategic focus area.
“This was a huge win as wellbeing is now at the strategic table, governed by both the Diversity and Inclusion and Health & Safety Executive Steering Groups, which includes the CEO,” Phillippa says.
Their real journey with mental health began after a long-standing employee shared his story on the intranet, titled ‘I have a mental illness’. The story received a huge response and remains the most commented on piece on Chorus’ intranet.
“There were instant messages, people dropping in to thank him for sharing. It created a huge response and huge respect across the business which ultimately removed the stigma around mental illness,” Phillippa says. Due to the success of this story they now have a regular article series called “Courageous Kōrero” where employees share their mental health stories.
Spurred on by the inspiring story and the support it created, Phillippa was determined to make the company’s focus on mental health and wellbeing bigger than ever in 2018.
Her attendance at the Mental Health Foundation’s July Working Well train-the-trainer workshops in Auckland came just at the right time.
“How great it was to take part in the workshop and see how we could create a positive working environment without needing to label it mental health. I left there going, ‘this is awesome’!” she says.
“One of the workshop activities used a simple sentence – ‘What do you need to have a really good day at work?’. I loved how it started the conversation in a positive light. I could see how we could open-up conversations using this, because it would get people talking about mental health and what they need,” Phillippa says.
Taking learnings and concepts from the MHF workshops and resources, Phillippa refreshed the Chorus strategy and their ‘Making every day an awesome day by creating a positive work environment’ programme took shape.
From Chorus People Leaders, to the wellbeing committee and members of the mental health network, Phillippa has started asking them “What do you need to have an awesome day at work?”.
“People have been so engaged in these sessions and they walk away with some actions on how they or their team can change the way they work or how they can improve their personal wellbeing practices to have an awesome day,” Phillippa says.
The renewed focus on mental wellbeing and having a planned approach has seen positive changes for employees and the company.
They launched a refreshed Anti-Bullying, Harassment and Discrimination Policy and Guidelines on Pink Shirt Day, built the capacity of a small group of trained employees to support others as ‘Chorus Confidants’, introduced two extra “Wellbeing Days” per year for permanent staff, used Mental Health Awareness Week to introduce the Five Ways to Wellbeing and dedicated three months to bringing the Five Ways to Wellbeing to life through events like yoga, massage, mindful Mondays, gratitude walls and of course social connection over food.
Crucially, Chorus’ leadership team has also backed the new initiatives, including sharing how they practice the Five Ways in their daily lives. Currently, preparations are underway to offer team sessions around ‘Creating a positive work environment’, incorporating a range of MHF content and resources, particularly the Five Ways and Working Well.
“Wellbeing has become part our culture, values and engagement, and it’s contributing to Chorus continuing to be a great place to work,” Phillippa says.
“Our people have thanked us for the amazing focus on wellbeing and taking care of everybody’s mental health. They’ve also told us that they’ve felt motivated, educated and encouraged by the programme to help manage their stress and mental wellbeing,” Phillippa says.