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Indigenous knowledge to inform workplace health and safety

Organisations willing to learn and uphold indigenous knowledge and belief systems in their workplace health and safety practices help reduce workplace injuries for Māori. 

This was highlighted by key speakers at the recent Haumaru Tāngata Symposium.  

The first of its kind, the symposium was an opportunity for recipients of Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), Workplace Injury Prevention Grants to present their current findings, and discuss worker perceptions about health, safety and wellbeing.

Nicola Dennison (Lead Systems Innovator) and Duane Mann (Strategic Relationships Manager) of The Cause Collective delivered a presentation on the progress of The Workplace Wellbeing Ecology (WWE) initiative. 

They cited  three organisations that were on the journey of incorporating the initiative and described the importance of incorporating indigenous knowledge in the workplace to help reduce/prevent workplace injuries.

“Māori indigenous knowledge helps us to understand that we are holistic beings, which includes not only balance among the four aspects of self (physical, mental, spiritual, emotional) but also intertwines relationships with whānau, community and taiao or the natural environment,” says Nicola (pictured above).

“Research tells us where there are high levels of employee wellbeing and engagement, it is linked with an increase in employee retention, improved safety, positive work behaviour and productivity. 

“Conversely, low levels of wellbeing can be a strong contributing factor to workplace incidents. Therefore, to ensure that workers are experiencing high levels of wellbeing, particularly Māori, there needs to be an understanding and application of indigenous knowledge to provide a holistic approach to wellbeing.”

The WWE initiative was established in 2018 to identify, test and refine approaches to improving the health and wellbeing of businesses with a high number of Pacific and Māori employees- often overrepresented in workplace injury statistics. It uses a mix of systems thinking, critical thinking and design thinking to deeply understand complexity and design around the primary causes of workplace health and wellbeing. 

“Māori and Pacific people are not the first to engage with management about issues or challenges they may have in the workplace. 

“There seems to be a lack of engagement and trust to share their perspectives and insights about the workplace to their managers,” says Nicola.

“WWE is designed to enable frontline staff and executive leadership of organisations to work together as a core team, positively disrupting workplace systems,” Nicola explains, “so they know the real issues and needs of workers.”

It’s important to have a mixed core team so they can amplify the voice of their workers directly to management to meet their needs. 

“We’re confident that when we can get people in a workplace together on a regular basis to socialise and ideate their ideas for change within a workplace, they will be able to better design better solutions for change with everyone’s input in turn enhancing wellbeing in the workplace,” she says.

The symposium also saw ACC workplace safety grant recipients share similar sentiments on the impact of Covid-19 on their specific projects.

“All of the speakers, including us, spoke about the significant impact of Covid-19 and how that has affected the progress of their respective projects,” says Nicola who shared that WWE participant organisations put a pause on the initiative while they focused on daily business operations.

“We all shared key similarities,” Nicola pointed out, “particularly around wellbeing being a priority for Māori as it can translate into other parts of life outside of work. When you thrive in a healthy and safe work environment, employees return home being a more active member of their family and community,” she says.

The Workplace Wellbeing Ecology follows a five-step design phase which involves an establishment phase – bringing together frontline staff and executive leadership together to create a core team, co-designing innovative solutions by building the evidence (phase 2), designing for change (phase 3) prototype and learning (phase 4), and developing for scale and sustainability (phase 5).

The Haumaru Tāngata Symposium was held online on Thursday 17 March 2022. 

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