In recent times, the healthcare sector has seen huge disruption on a global scale and unprecedented demand on both its people and systems. It has therefore been no small feat to remain resilient while also planning for a large-scale sector wide transformation. A journey that, when completed, will improve healthcare delivery and healthcare outcomes for all New Zealanders. 

As part of these healthcare reforms, 2022 saw the inception of New Zealand’s new nationwide healthcare organisation, fittingly named Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand, which replaced the twenty district health boards (DHBs) and seven other entities. From Day One, its leadership team, including Chief People Officer, Andrew Slater, have focused on integrating systems, teams and regions while also putting in place strategies to deliver a more cohesive and equitable workplace. One that will better serve its current employees while also giving it a competitive edge to attract and retain great people. 

While it is still early days for Te Whatu Ora’s transformation journey, initial signs indicate that positive change is happening. In Randstad’s latest employer brand research, it ranked highest in the healthcare sector, most notably for job security, career progression and interesting job content. Delighted with these results, Andrew Slater believes that while there is still vast amounts of work to do, these findings reflect the sentiment of Te Whatu Ora’s people, who see it as a great privilege to deliver healthcare services to all New Zealanders. 

an image of a man wearing glasses and a suit and tie smiling brightly with his hands clasped in front of him
an image of a man wearing glasses and a suit and tie smiling brightly with his hands clasped in front of him

Andrew Slater - Chief People Officer - Te Whatu Ora

a starting point towards building ‘the best little healthcare organisation in the world’ 

Post integration, Te Whatu Ora employs approximately 90,000 people, of which there are 27,818 nurses and 9,963 doctors.  But, due to the global shortage of medical professionals, it is a competitive market to attract and retain these professionals. 

In July 2022, the organisation shared its strategic plan to address the myriad of challenges impacting its workforce, including mapping a pathway forward that would deliver improvements for every employee. This included identifying how best to support, attract and retain skilled people. From a future proofing perspective, it also focused on creating talent pipelines from study to work, ensuring its people would have support, training opportunities and recognition.

As Andrew comments, “If you work in healthcare in New Zealand, it is likely that at some point in time Te Whatu Ora will employ you. However, we want to make sure we are an employer of choice, not a last resort. 

Our goal is to not only be the best little healthcare organisation in New Zealand, but the world. This means we must remain focused on transforming the organisation, including how we support our people. Investing resources into improving areas like pay equity, training, retention, and experience.”

understanding the issues and managing through tough times to rebuild the employee experience 

Te Whatu Ora’s Health Workforce Plan outlined the primary employee issues identified when the organisation was established in 2022. It also mapped the steps required to resolve these issues and the future investment needed to improve the employee experience and deliver ongoing employee development. 

Key issues included inadequate quality of employee data leading to difficulty in understanding and articulating employment needs to government and other stakeholders; underinvestment in people leading to difficulty in growing teams, shortage of skills and diversity; fragmentation of DHBs; global workforce shortages; and undue pressures on current healthcare professionals.

Andrew comments, “Our change going forward is all about systems and processes that enable New Zealanders to get healthcare easier and free up our people to be able to really continue to look at that employee experience.”  

According to Andrew, there are great opportunities for people to have a long-term career within healthcare and with Te Whatu Ora. He explains, “Whether you are working in IT, HR or the clinical roles or are one of the key people who enable care in our hospitals, there are career pathways for life. Whether that is starting in the finance team and becoming a CFO or starting your career as a nurse and going on to run hospital and specialist services. We believe in offering careers for people, not just jobs.”

In the strategy document, Te Whatu Ora also highlights key wins, including the fact that in the last five years there has been a 22.7% increase in nurses hired, 22.8% increase in doctors, a 35% increase in graduate nursing salaries, and a 43% increase in top step salaries for registered nurses since 2017. 

However, reflecting on the change of the past eighteen months, Andrew says it has been hard, and the organisation has been through a challenging time, integrating twenty DHBs, especially as there was role duplication across the newly formed organisation. This meant that large teams, particularly those in support roles, needed reducing.

an image of a man working in a health care laboratory while wearing scrubs
an image of a man working in a health care laboratory while wearing scrubs

making leaps and bounds in a short span of time

In the last eighteen months, Andrew says Te Whatu Ora has also managed to address long-standing inequities and established a foundation for one collective organisation, as opposed to twenty different systems.

When it comes to addressing diversity and equity, Te Whatu Ora has been working on a large project in collaboration with the Government to correct pay equity settlements. Overall, approximately $5 billion has gone into settling the issue at a macro level, with an associated program of work continuing to identify areas of pay discrimination and creating policies to close the gaps.

Te Whatu Ora has also strengthened its general practitioner (GP) training pathway, committing to increasing the number of specialist GPs trained a year to three hundred by 2026, with a focus on ensuring more Māori and Pasifika GPs.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) is a growing area of importance for employees according to Randstad’s employer branding research with 54% of New Zealanders believing it important to work for a company that actively supports DE&I, with 46% of New Zealanders experiencing barriers to entry for employment. In addition, 8% of Kiwis valued an equal pay policy covering gender and ethnicity and almost half (49%) valued companies who take action to promote LGBTQIA+ inclusion. 

Andrew says, “Diversity is hugely important to us. In the health sector our job is to serve all New Zealanders, and the evidence base supports the fact that the more we reflect the diversity of our communities, the better outcomes we will have.

“Throughout previous structures, we had many DE&I programmes delivered, and we have made sure these continue to deliver. Now, we are looking at selecting the ‘best of the best’ that we can roll out across the entire organisation to focus our efforts.”

A medical team in a hospital doing a training session. They are being observed by a team leader.
A medical team in a hospital doing a training session. They are being observed by a team leader.

looking to the year ahead

In 2024, Andrew says the journey to realise better health outcomes and employee experiences continues.

Recognising that any organisation is only as strong as its leaders, Andrew says that over the next twelve months, Te Whatu Ora will focus on establishing the first leadership institute for the organisation. An exciting development, it will be responsible for ensuring current leaders have the tools they need to lead and future leaders are also identified and trained to take on key projects. High performing leaders will also be recognised for their achievements.

In addition, Te Whatu Ora will continue to implement Te Mauri o Rongo, The NZ Health Charter - an important promise to the citizens of New Zealand under new legislation. 

Andrew says, “For us, this includes asking, how do we engage our employees in decision-making? How do we care for them? How do we deliver the best possible occupational health service to our own people? And how do we make sure we are also always getting the basics right, for instance, we are paying people on time, providing what they need and what they’re owed.”

As we look forward to 2024, Te Whatu Ora stands out as an example of what happens when an organisation is unafraid to tackle existing challenges and build new ways of working together, that champion employee equity and leadership.

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