Wellbeing at Z

June 27, 2022

Thanks to our philosophy of putting wellbeing at the front and centre of work, Z has been named as a finalist in the NZ Energy Excellence Awards. Here, Z’s Head of Safety, Wellbeing and Risk Andrew Shand talks through the positive culture we're creating. 

Wellbeing of our people is a key priority at Z. It’s embedded in our values and what we stand for as a company.

This has seen us ranked in the top five per cent of companies globally for our Peakon score for wellbeing, based on employee engagement surveys. It’s also seen Z recently named a finalist for the Well-being Award at this year’s NZ Energy Excellence Awards, primarily thanks to our outstanding efforts through the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Z is focused on creating a workplace where people can be successful being themselves. We want our people to feel safe in the work they're doing and supported along the way,” says Andrew Shand, Z’s Head of Safety, Wellbeing and Risk.

“A place where they don’t need to be concerned about things like speaking up about what they’re feeling, or about their own safety, diversity and inclusion.

“Imagine what they can deliver in an environment where these concerns are taken off the table. It creates a pretty special environment.”

It’s clear the topic is very close to Andrew’s heart. After all, he spends a large amount of his working life ensuring Z’s wellbeing framework is put into practice.

But what is workplace wellbeing? And why is it important?

 “It’s a whole package of things. It’s about recognising that everyone needs help sometimes and providing them with that help. It’s about creating a culture where people are engaged and supported, because only then do they have the maximum capacity to really enjoy what they do.”

At Z we consider wellbeing risks the same as any other health and safety risks and look to identify and eliminate them in the way we design our work.

“It’s important we take the same approach with wellbeing as we would to any other risks,” says Andrew.

“Too often companies focus on building the resilience of their people and, while this is important, we believe that organisations need to design out or eliminate these risks before their people need to deal with them.”

 

Putting wellbeing first

At the heart of our company’s philosophy is the acceptance that mental health is a vital part of the overall picture. CEO Mike Bennetts is known for regularly discussing his own wellbeing at company-wide meetings, acknowledging tough times and challenges, and the ways in which he’s dealing with them. Wellbeing is “part of the language of leaders”, says Andrew.

He adds: “At Z, we recognise that mental health is a key component of wellbeing. As mental health is measured on a continuum, it’s really normal for that continuum to slide up and down. This might occur on a daily basis or even shift between every interaction.

“We believe an individual’s wellbeing is created in a partnership between them and the organisation, and that we all have different roles to play. A lot of that is removing some of the fear; people shouldn’t be afraid of starting a wellbeing conversation in case it ends up being something they’re not quite sure what to do with.

“We make sure people know who to talk to, and how to access the right tools to get the support they need.”

Staff feedback shows that this openness has effectively “given permission” for others to be honest about their wellbeing, too. One Peakon respondent noted that ”the candidness in his (Mike’s) company-wide meetings about his own wellbeing normalises this for everyone and helps the people realise it’s OK to look after yourself and prioritise this. I think it makes us a distinctive company, funnily enough, and probably more productive and profitable too!”

There’s no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic tested our wellbeing, and workplaces around Aotearoa and the world are continuing to navigate these uncertain times. But Z’s response to lockdowns and restrictions – and our determination that our people would thrive throughout – is getting the recognition it deserves with the finalist billing at the NZ Energy Excellence Awards. Winners are announced at the end of June.

 

Learning vital lessons

Just before the first lockdown of 2020, we set ourselves a goal that “our people leave the pandemic with a greater understanding of their own wellbeing, enhanced connection with their colleagues and an increased awareness of how they can influence their own wellbeing”.

To achieve this, we implemented a raft of initiatives, including: 10 days special leave (to be taken as full or part days and whenever staff needed); Employee Assistance Programme counselling services for staff and their families; online support tools; $100 per employee per month to recognise additional home costs such as internet and food; and full remote office set-up for those who requested it.

There were also wellbeing workshops, surveys, check-ins and company-wide meetings, not to mention presentations by company doctors and virologists to help provide accurate information. In the absence of “water cooler chat”, fun competitions and activities were run to encourage people to remain connected to their peers.

“There was a very real understanding right across the board that people were dealing with challenges and that it was completely normal to be feeling overwhelmed or anxious. It was up to us to provide the tools and the space to help people better cope with the things they had going on,” says Andrew.

One of the biggest learnings for our staff from the pandemic was that it was “OK to be yourself”.

Andrew adds that, “We had Teams meetings where kids were walking in and out, dogs were jumping on people, cats were sitting on keyboards, and that was OK. No one had to dress up for meetings and there was a shared understanding that you didn’t need to be the best, polished version of yourself.”

Another Peakon respondent said it was this supportive environment that helped them through: “I have been blown away by the support the business has given its team of 500. Business leaders regularly checked in with people and made it very clear that what we were dealing with was challenging, there was no sugar-coating and there was absolute clarity in the message to look after yourself, your family and your wellbeing.”

But Andrew says it’s important to remember that wellbeing at Z has never been a Covid-19 specific goal – it’s a permanent priority now and into the future, as one of Z’s four key Stands. Yet the big challenge facing workplaces in 2022 is how to balance engagement and connection with people’s newfound need and desire for flexibility. “It’s all about listening to and understanding your people,” says Andrew.

Andrew believes the fundamental reason companies got high engagement and good outcomes during COVID-19 was because organisations sought to understand the pressures their people were under. They then worked with their people to co-create a productive working environment that allowed their people to thrive.

“One of the biggest lessons Covid-19 taught us was that if you take the time to listen to your people and design the work with them, you get good outcomes,” he notes. “We need to be deliberate about what’s next and we’re focused on continuing to foster a connected workforce with a culture of flexibility.”