The drink bottle on Vicki Caisley's desk is flashing at her.

It's time for Southern Cross' head of people, strategy and performance to have a sip of water.

Connected to her phone and Fitbit by Bluetooth, the bottle pulls together information on her activity levels, basic physiology and the weather to manage her hydration levels.

It's something Caisley and her team are testing with an eye to including it in the company's staff wellbeing programme, Switch to Well.

Advertisement

Now in its 11th year, the programme initially focused on nutrition, exercise and quitting smoking.

When Caisley joined Southern Cross more than three years ago, it had begun to take a more holistic approach, including seminars on things such as financial planning, but she says there were still opportunities for improvement.

Using the World Health Organisation healthy workplaces model as the framework, Caisley says she researched what made a community well and distilled that down for use in a workplace.

The wellbeing programme now touches on everything from diversity through to the environment and health and safety, with some of the assistance spreading out to connect with families, flatmates and friends of staff.

Caisley admits it can be hard to assess how a wellbeing programme is performing because it's never the only thing happening in an organisation at any one time, but turnover, absenteeism and presenteeism can be good gauges.

Staff absences at Southern Cross are down 25 per cent and staff turnover is reducing year-on-year.

In the first year of the "beefed up" programme there was a 25 per cent drop in turnover, a further 13 per cent drop the following year, with the current year due to also deliver a further fall in turnover.

Caisley says she wouldn't want turnover to fall any lower than the current level, saying it gives the organisation a healthy level of renewal.

Advertisement

"We see ourselves as the guinea pig for wellbeing in New Zealand," she says.

"We should be trying and testing everything we can get our hands on to see what works and what doesn't.

"We do things that are complete failures for us but they might work in another workplace.

"We can at least talk about them."

We see ourselves as the guinea pig for wellbeing in NZ.

Having been approached by other companies to share the wellbeing programme, Southern Cross is now bundling its experience into an app set to launch in July for use in other workplaces.

Caisley says it aims to address some of the big issues with running a corporate wellbeing programme: how do you resource it and who is going to run it?

"I think it's our job to make sure that whatever we develop is low touch in that space so it's not going to impact greatly in terms of cost to implement and additional resource to run it."

For Caisley, her three and a half years at Southern Cross nicely pulls together the strands of her career to date.

She says her first big career break was in financial services, working for what was Ergo, before it morphed into AMP Banking. Caisley reported to the HR manager, taking over after 18 months to manage business operations moving to Sydney.

From there she moved to the Auckland District Health Board, eventually leading HR for National Women's and Starship hospitals, only leaving the role when her first child was born.

I think it's our job to make sure that whatever we develop is low touch in that space so it's not going to impact greatly in terms of cost to implement and additional resource to run it.

"I never thought I'd end up working in the public sector to be honest.

"It comes with a reputation but it completely changed my views and I would work in the public sector any day because I think that it is complex and it is challenging and the people that are within it are amazing, bright, intelligent, committed individuals."

It was Caisley's experience in a unionised workplace that caught the eye of the Fire Service Commission, which invited her to apply for a role on the board even though she had no governance experience.

She describes her five-year term as a steep learning curve but it gave her an insight into what happens in the "black boxes" of the boardroom.

"It's really helped me to understand what goes on behind those closed doors, so when I've got my management hat on and thinking about how I'm going to present to the board or how I'm going to write papers for the board, I just have that better understanding, so it's helped me in both places."

A year after wrapping up her governance term, Caisley remains proud of her time on the board and the work of the Fire Service, particularly in maintaining a strong relationship with the union to create a settled industrial environment.

It was during this time that she completed her MBA at Massey University -- an opportunity to formalise the experience she'd gained since leaving school at the end of the fifth form to head off on her OE.

She is now keeping her governance hand in by chairing the board of her children's primary school.

"I can see myself returning to [governance] at some point.

"I've just got a lot that I want to do in the business as well as working on the business, I guess."