Being holistically mindful – Te Whare Tapa Whā  

Emily Afoa

A holistic perspective to employee health and wellbeing sits at the heart of Tektus’ business practice. By incorporating Te Whare Tapa Whā, a Māori holistic model of health and wellbeing, for guidance in caring for and interacting with staff and clients, Tektus aims to foster a more holistic and sustainable approach to wellbeing for its community.

Tektus Pou Whakarae (Director) Emily Afoa describes how the company uses the model with employees and when planning and designing their work, as well as its interactions with clients and the wider community.

What is Te Whare Tapa Whā?

Te Whare Tapa Whā was developed in 1984 by Tā (Sir) Mason Durie, a leading Māori health advocate, and gives a voice to the four dimensions of Māori wellbeing. These are taha wairua (spiritual health), taha hinengaro (mental health), taha tinana (physical health) and taha whānau (family health).

The model paints a picture of health and wellbeing as a wharenui or meeting house with four walls, which are the four dimensions mentioned. In some depictions of the model, connection with whenua (land) forms the foundation. When these taha are in balance, we thrive. Our wellbeing is impacted when one or more of these is out of balance.

Why did you introduce Te Whare Tapa Whā into Tektus?

We initiated the daily sharing of wellbeing in 2020 to help keep everyone connected during lockdown when we were all working remotely. We then went on to incorporate the model into our day-to-day operations because it gave a framework to describe wellbeing holistically. We can talk to wellbeing broadly and share if one particular taha or dimension is impacted. The benefits include having a more supportive and inclusive environment in which employees feel open to talk about wellbeing. Framing in this way has also given us, as leadership, an avenue to identify how better to support individuals.

What initiatives have you implemented to support the framework?

We have reframed sick leave as wellbeing leave to encompass all elements of wellbeing, beyond a traditional focus on physical health alone and aligned with Te Whare Tapa Whā. We share wellbeing in our team meetings and have social activities, sports equipment and, more recently, a specific block of weekly one-hour workshops to reconnect with Te Whare Tapa Whā and how we use it within Tektus. We’ve implemented these workshops through Te Toi-o-ngā-rangi, our Te Ao Māori capability programme.

Our employees’ physical health and safety, and their mental and spiritual wellbeing, are at the heart of our priorities. We also strive to create a culture in our workplace that supports and values the important role employees’ whānau (families) and hapori (communities) play in promoting wellbeing.

How does Tektus use Te Whare Tapa Whā in planning and designing work?

We have team ‘huddles’ throughout the week where team members are invited to share their overall wellbeing on a scale of one (lowest) to five (highest) and their workload using the same scale. Alongside this, we have a traffic light system in which the team indicate whether work is impacting their ability to be present outside of work. A red traffic light might mean long working hours, worrying about work, or being unable to ‘put it down’ at the end of the day.

Together these elements give us insight into an employee’s overall wellbeing. For example, an employee might score workload a 4.5, which means they have a high workload, and they might score their wellbeing 3.5 Green, which means they are moderately well. A ‘green light’ indicates although workload is high, it is not affecting their ability to be present outside of work. The amount of detail shared is up to the individual. For example, “taha tinana a little low – back at the physio” or similar gives further insight into their overall wellbeing.

Leadership staff pay attention to employees’ responses and check-in with them if they regularly give low ratings, or if it appears that workload or other stress factors are consistently impacting their wellbeing, then implement measures to respond.

Do staff support the initiatives?

Our people have responded very enthusiastically and regularly use the wellbeing tools available in the office such as sports equipment and puzzles. They also suggest other initiatives, which we think demonstrates we’re on the right track in looking after our team. We are continuing to evolve and learn together.

How does mātauranga Māori influence the wider work you do at Tektus?

At Tektus, we believe in the importance of mātauranga and tikanga Māori, or Māori knowledge, customs and traditional values, informing our work. We consider this enables us to better understand the world around us, therefore providing our clients with the best possible care by incorporating different perspectives and knowledge systems into our business practices and projects. We are still learning as an organisation and as individuals – including ongoing development of Te Toi-o-ngā-rangi – but the intention, the aspiration, and the appetite to learn within the team are strong. We hope that we’re contributing to a more equitable and regenerative future for all New Zealanders by aligning our work with Te Ao Māori and working in partnership with Māori communities.

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