I took a two-week holiday and didn’t check my emails once – with T+T leader Penny Kneebone

Penny Kneebone

The professional services industry is full of driven individuals who work hard to get the best results, but the inability to switch off can have a detrimental effect on wellbeing. We talk to Tonkin + Taylor New Zealand Chief Executive Dr Penny Kneebone about how she confronted the causes of her workplace stress and learned how to take a proper break from work.

At T+T, wellbeing in the workplace starts with one of its core values: everyone matters.

“In professional services, we know we thrive when we’re healthily engaged in purposeful work, and our wellbeing suffers if we don’t get the work balance right,” Penny says. “We’re committed to really getting our work balance sorted, which is no small feat in a team of driven professionals. It’s a shift our industry needs to make, and we’re committed to getting it right.”

Last year the firm started using the health and safety root cause analysis process to get a deep understanding of the factors contributing to workplace stress.

“We’ve looked at specific areas of particularly stressful work to understand how we can better support our people and shift the way we deliver that work so that it contributes to wellbeing, rather than detracts from wellbeing.”

Penny recently took part in the Be Well to Lead Well course for CEOs, a recommended resource in ACE New Zealand’s Mindspace programme, which aims to enable wellbeing and foster psychological safety which are becoming a core leadership capability for CEOs and executives, underpinning both their own and their organisations’ performance.

The course, delivered by the Business Leaders Health and Safety Forum, started with a personal assessment of wellbeing in and out of work to identify what factors are important contributors and detractors from wellbeing.

“The insights were quite confronting,” Penny says. “The course included a one-on-one coaching session that led to a personal action plan. It was a great way to take that insight while it was fresh and capture some good actions for positive change.

“The assessment really highlighted to me just how important my work relationships are to my personal wellbeing, and just how fortunate I am to be working with a great bunch of people. The action plan helped me identify incremental shifts I can make to nurture my wellbeing.”

As a chief executive, Penny leads a team of driven professionals and she says one of the company’s biggest health and safety risks is wellbeing.

“So there were three reasons I took the course: first, because I really want to shift our industry’s position on work balance to a healthier place.

“Second, I really wanted to be able to authentically promote a healthy work balance in our business, which meant living it myself – I’m still learning and practicing!

“And third, I was looking for a tool to help our people tackle this important issue. It’s very personal, and the Be Well to Lead Well course had all the right ingredients – a personalised approach with expert support and tangible actions.”

Since she took the course in this year, Penny has made some important changes to how she leads wellbeing and psychological safety at T+T.

“Part of my action plan was to make time to cut off completely from work thinking. I’m just back from a two-week holiday and for the first time in 17 years, I didn’t check work emails once while I was away. With 100% confidence in my delegates and an emergency contact in place, I had a complete break and returned with a really refreshed perspective on our workplace. Best of all, I can now hand-on-heart set that expectation that others do the same, and make holiday time a total and complete break from work thinking.”

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