Bev Cassidy Mackenzie: Good workplace culture great for productivity

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This year Defence Force leaders supported uniformed and civilian members of OverWatch taking part in Auckland's Big Gay Out. Photo / Michael Craig
This year Defence Force leaders supported uniformed and civilian members of OverWatch taking part in Auckland's Big Gay Out. Photo / Michael Craig

Building a successful business culture is a wise investment to make as profits rise, employees become more motivated and customers or clients are happier. This is confirmed by international research and case studies.

I believe aiming for a positive culture should be part of the core business for every organisation - an SME, not-for-profit, a charity, corporate or franchise. It's just good business sense to include workplace culture initiatives in board agendas and on CEOs' job descriptions.

I see examples of companies that continue to believe it is "something for the HR department to deal with" but would like to see it feature more prominently in senior managers' workloads. That's because a lazy work culture often leads to high staff turnover, mistakes, injuries, lots of sick days, personal grievance cases and sluggish productivity.

So what is a positive and forward-thinking business culture all about?

We have just held the ANZ and EEO Trust Diversity Awards 2013 (29 August) that acknowledge workplace programmes which focus on helping employees meet their commitments at work and at home.

The awards also applaud organisations that support a diverse workforce by providing employment opportunities to migrants, women, disabled people, youth, aged workers, parents returning to the workforce and other lifestyle choices.

The awards have five categories and from the winners of these a supreme winner is chosen by the five judges. The supreme winner this year is the Defence Force's OverWatch programme which includes a support group and resources for staff with different sexualities - be they uniformed or civilian personnel. OverWatch also educates Defence Force leaders about different lifestyles. It was rolled out across the navy, army and air force to ensure everyone in the armed forces gets guidance and support.

As a judge of the awards I was really impressed that Defence leaders quickly recognised OverWatch as a key mechanism in supporting the wellbeing of their people.

This has resulted in any negative behaviour being dealt with quickly by fostering a culture of positive bystander intervention. This year Defence Force leaders supported uniformed and civilian members of OverWatch taking part in Wellington's Out in the Square, and Auckland's Big Gay Out as well as marching in the Pride Parade. These visible role models send a positive message about different lifestyles to all personnel.

OverWatch is not just about employees as it includes their families as well. For example, a staff member received support and guidance after their teenage son came out. The programme is available to members of New Zealand's armed forces serving anywhere in the world.

Health and wellness initiatives are growing in popularity as employers realise how beneficial they are for their organisation's culture. The winner of the ANZ and EEO Trust Diversity Awards Work & Life category was Coca-Cola Amatil's ZEROHARM programmes. This included evaluating areas employees needed to work on.

Everyone gets free health checks and health insurance that is also offered to family members up to the age of 21. Coca-Cola Amatil was seeing an increase in the number of injuries, especially from employees who did the moving of stock, so a manual handling and fitness programme was launched last year. This led to a drop in workplace injuries from well over 60 to fewer than 24.

Meanwhile its driver safety record was poor so a business roadshow was developed that went around Coke's offices. It included a quiz and a driver safety course that included a simulated driving test that was also offered to employees' families. In 2011 there were 41 accidents per 100 vehicles and last year that dropped to 26.

This shows that promoting a positive workplace culture through education and wellbeing programmes is not only the right thing to do, but the bright thing to do as it results in an efficient workplace. To learn more about successful workplace programmes that have improved companies' cultures, visit www.eeotrust.org.nz.

Bev Cassidy Mackenzie is chief executive of the Equal Employment Opportunities Trust.

- NZ Herald

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