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Health and wellbeing program case study: Centrelink

Centrelink workplace health program wins National Safety Award

When one of Centrelink’s regional operating areas started rating poorly on several key staffing performance indicators, the agency quickly realised it had to address some serious problems.

In June 2007, Centrelink’s Area Pacific Central (APC) office—which covers an area from Coffs Harbour to the northern end of the Gold Coast—was facing a number of staffing issues. The major one was a high rate of unscheduled leave: 15.5 days per full-time employee, against a target of 13.6 days. At the same time, the area office also identified a steady increase in the cost of its workers’ compensation premium and claim rates.

To combat these problems, APC developed LivWell—Life Works, a holistic workplace health program to promote wellbeing and prevention. To illustrate the principles for staff, the group developed the LivWell—Life Works wheel (pictured below). It promotes activities in each of the categories noted. For example, under the ‘Mental wellbeing’ category, utilising supports such as the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and a HR psychologist are promoted, as are resilience/stress management courses, peer support and harassment contact officers.

The wheel is designed to let workers know that wellbeing is holistic, and not attributed to just one category—staff need to pay attention to all the categories to achieve optimal wellbeing.

LivWell-Life Works wheel diagram shows different categories that all contribute to overall wellbeing.

The ‘FISH! Philosophy’—a set of practical tools designed to help organisations build cultures of service, trust, accountability and innovation—was adopted by Centrelink to help address the issues it was facing. The agency’s leadership team felt the four main principles of the philosophy—to be emotionally present, be creative, contribute to people’s lives and choose your attitude—were relevant to the organisation.

But Centrelink realised that to make significant health changes, it needed to back up its words with actions, and actively help staff make meaningful change. It recruited the experts it needed to form a Wellbeing Team within Human Resources. These included an occupational therapist, an exercise physiologist, a workplace psychologist and a part-time analyst and researcher.

The team compiled data from a variety of sources, including Centrelink’s People Survey, HR data as well as Comcare reports, to ensure activities and interventions were targeted.

Centrelink’s leadership team was engaged and extremely supportive of the LivWell—Life Works program, and allocated resources and amended business methods to support targeted interventions.

The APC Area Manager said one such intervention was a ‘Yes first’ policy. This saw supervisors always start from a position of agreeing to a request for leave or flexible arrangements if they could, and then try to cover the operational demand issues. The APC Centrelink branch also made sure messages were positive, and focused on worker health rather than attendance.

In addition, managers and team leaders were encouraged to facilitate staff participation in surveys, and participate in wellbeing activities. Centrelink believes the quality of leadership had a major impact on staff satisfaction and engagement.

‘In fact a lot of this is about the psychology of leadership and the workplace and taking a broad view of people’s lives—you can’t look at things in isolation.’

Since the inception of the LivWell—Life Works program, APC has achieved a more engaged, healthier workforce, which is motivated to come to work and make a difference to the lives of customers. Program results include:

  • 4 per cent decrease in the incidence of workplace injuries
  • 60 per cent reduction in new claims from 2006/07 to 2009/10
  • 12 per cent reduction in lost time injury rate
  • $250 000 reduction in workers’ compensation premiums
  • 33 per cent reduction in unscheduled absences overall, a decrease from 15.5 days to 11.6 days per full-time equivalent.

Importantly, staff engagement, customer satisfaction and productivity have also increased since the program started, demonstrated by an increase of 10 points on APC’s 2009 Employee Motivation and Performance Index.

In 2010, Centrelink won a National Safety Award for its health and wellbeing program.

Page last updated: 20 Mar 2014