The link between diversity and wellbeing: a no-brainer for NZ organisations

By Ellie Kay

As the ResOrgs diversity and wellbeing champ, I have often written on, well, diversity and wellbeing. When it was suggested that I think about writing a blog, though, I wasn’t really sure where to start. Sure, my colleagues have become accustomed to my regular, tome-length diversity and wellbeing emails, but these had all previously come at a time where I was feeling particularly introspective or considering the way of the world we live in. But when faced with a blog, it was suddenly an “Oh” moment. What to talk about? What to consider? The potential for this piece of work to go further than my regular rambling to my colleagues suddenly felt a little intimidating, and there was a little pressure (self-inflicted, of course) to get it “right”. (I won’t even go down that particular rabbit hole, what it even means to be “right” can wait for another day).

My first question was one of focus. Diversity or wellbeing? However, it turns out that sometimes you really can have your cake and eat it too. A recent article on Stuff caught my eye during this conundrum of mine, and linking the use of te reo Māori at work to increased job satisfaction. Better job satisfaction, as we all probably know, has been linked to increased wellbeing. I mean, it just makes logical sense that people who wake up to go to a job they find fulfilling have better wellbeing than those who hate their jobs, right? As is the case with many Stuff articles, I was left wanting more and, interested in the link between diversity and wellness, I tracked down the original report to see what the deal was.

Here’s the low-down on the research. In New Zealand, supportive firm culture (e.g., work flexibility) has been positively linked to job satisfaction. Previous research has noted that this is due to employees receiving something that is considered both rare and valuable. To cut a long, thoroughly interesting report short, the use of tikanga Māori, that is, Māori practices and customs (such as powhiri), and te reo Māori is significantly linked to job satisfaction in organisations. These organisations also experience better employee engagement. Furthermore, the organisational resourcing of tikanga Māori, not surprisingly, led to increased cultural wellbeing.

But wait, there’s more. Organisations that use te reo Māori and tikanga Māori also report having better relationships with their customers. On top of the internal benefits of organisational use of tikanga Māori and te reo Māori, external relationships also prosper. However, it seems that this is not well recognised by organisations. Although around 70% of organisations report some use of te reo Māori internally, only 45% of organisations report using the language some of the time, a lot of the time, or all of the time. That number drops when looking at the external use of the language and drops again when considering the use of tikanga Māori. When looking at the demographics of those organisations who used te reo Māori and tikanga Māori, a few things stood out. Small, private sector organisations have the lowest engagement with tikanga Māori and te reo Māori and, not surprisingly, Māori organisations used Māori language and tikanga Māori the most. Those organisations who viewed English as the standard or only language of New Zealand were also significantly less likely to use Māori language or tikanga Māori. Conversely, organisations that saw te reo Māori as an integral part of culture in New Zealand were significantly more likely to use the language.

Let’s just focus on te reo Māori here for a second. We are on the cusp of Māori language week here in good ol’ NZ. Māori language week in 2019 runs from the 9th – 15 September (Mahuru) and is a good chance for us to think a bit more about the use of one of New Zealand’s official languages. But why is the use of Māori language so important? Well, because it links to our identity. Everyone loves the haka and it’s a proud moment to see the boys in black complete this fearsome challenge to their opponents before every game. It’s in our national anthem. Heck, Māori design is even used by our national airline. We’re well known for it. And if we use tikanga Māori and design like this, then we need to respect and acknowledge the culture that gave us these gifts, these taonga. If we recognise Māori language and culture as part of our identity, and if “doing the right thing” is important to us, then there is a responsibility to be agents of change in normalising te reo Māori in our country. We have a role to play.

If you’re new to this other language rodeo and don’t know where to start, here’s some tips:

  1. Promote te reo Māori as “good for business”, and champion the language with your employees. Employees that use Māori language, as we’ve just heard, report higher satisfaction and greater wellbeing.
  2. Campaigns to increase language use within organisations should highlight that you don’t need to be Māori to speak Māori. Māori speakers have a love of Aotearoa and of the language. A perception change is needed to remind that te reo Māori is a language for all New Zealanders.
  3. Start small. Providing specific, small, practical ways that organisations can use Māori in the workplace is a great way to start. This could be something as simple as a new word per week, with a challenge to work it into the conversation between colleagues.
  4. Reduce feelings of embarrassment (or whakamā). Trying is as good as perfection when it comes to revitalising the language. Think about conservation – every bit contributes, and it doesn’t have to be perfect.
  5. If you’re not sure of a meaning, or you don’t know if you’ve got the emphasis right on a word, check out Māori Dictionary. Seriously, it’s a lifesaver.

If you’d like to learn more about Māori language, head over to Mā Test yourself to see how many of these words you already know. You might surprise yourself.

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