It makes sense that Life Education NSW would walk the talk and prioritise health and wellbeing in the same way their mascot, Healthy Harold, teaches kids to do. Here, the CEO shares his tips on creating a positive workplace culture. We ask CEOs of organisations with a strong workplace culture for tips on leading change and supporting staff to stay happy and motivated.

Anyone who has looked into or conducted an Organisational Health Index (OHI) survey will know that it’s no mean feat for an organisation to receive an overall health score of 93. Jonathon Peatfield, Chief Executive Officer at Life Education NSW, is justifiably proud of the score, which placed Life Education in the top 10 percent of organisations that participated in the McKinsey & Company OHI evaluation.

So, what are the keys to a positive, healthy organisation?

Understanding staff issues

When Jonathon took the reins of Life Education NSW in 2019, he was lucky enough to replace someone who had already taken big steps to improve the organisation’s workplace culture.

“I don’t think there was a focus on wellbeing before Kellie [Sloane] started. She came in and did a lot of work, put a really good team in place and began conducting cultural surveys.”

When he stepped in, Jonathon read over survey responses and talked with staff, piecing together what issues they had. “There were still some frustrations around communication and feelings of disconnection between the office staff and the educators [who run health educational programs in primary schools using the puppet, Healthy Harold],” he says.

Increasing staff connection in the time of Covid

If staff had historically felt a lack of connection, the feeling may well have been magnified when the pandemic forced remote work conditions soon after Jonathon started.

Staff began connecting through Microsoft Teams and the key, says Jonathon, was to make meetings frequent and diverse, ensuring people had access to informal huddles as well as all-staff meetings. “We gave people flexibility as well,” he says.

“Different people engage in different ways
and we are mindful of that.”


A few staff members also set up a wellbeing group, splitting staff into four teams – bringing together educators and administrators – and running weekly competitions like scavenger hunts. “The response was so good we’re still doing it.”

The team also mixed things up by instigating things like dress-up meetings, with Jonathon once rocking up to a meeting as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. The gesture was light-hearted, but the message was clear: ‘I want to enjoy work and I want you to enjoy it, too.’

“We actually played hide and seek in the office once,” adds Jonathon. “The team loved it.”

Putting wellbeing and technical support in place

After a positive response to an all-staff conference that included some wellbeing workshops, Life Education implemented an employee assistance programme called Uprise. “It’s brilliant,” says Jonathon. “Instead of just giving staff a number they can call, it offers full interactive site with wellbeing check-ins, stress check-ins, online courses and a selection of counsellors and psychologists you can speak with.”

The organisation also implemented technical support and training, partly in response to the burgeoning number of platforms the organisation was using to increase connectivity and communication.

“I know I’m bad at using different programs so I could empathise with anyone who was struggling,” says Jonathon. “So, we ran training sessions, sent out how-to videos and checked in with people who weren’t using the platforms to see if they wanted individual support. New systems and processes can be tough, so we need to keep the support in place.”

Jonathon Peatfield and Healthy Harold
Jonathon Peatfield and Healthy Harold

Ensuring everyone has access to professional development

One of the issues with managing a not for profit is you may not have enough funding for everybody to undertake professional development, so leaders often get to do the upskilling, widening the gap between staff, outlines Jonathon.

So, he is putting in place a cost-effective way for everyone to access PD. “We’re working with the Australian Institute of Management at the moment to purchase a learning package so that everybody in the office can go and do some professional development, not just the leaders.”

Staff can choose from an array of programs under the proviso that they then present their learnings back to the team, and turn the information into a training session that can be accessed as needed.

Encouraging staff buy-in

Jonathon says that one of the first things he did when he started at Life Education was bring in a strategy consultant [Waterfield Consulting] but instead of confining strategy to leadership, they involved the whole team in the process.

“We created a document and we still update it every two weeks,” he says. “So, people have their say and feel invested in the future success of the organisation.”

Implementing teacher and student surveys has also motivated staff, as the educators can now read about the impact their workshops are having. “It’s also been a great way to identify key learning opportunities,” says Jonathon.

“Talking to staff about the ‘why’ in an organisation is always important. Why we are doing what we’re doing,” says Jonathon. “Of course, it helps that staff know what we’re doing is important and having a good impact, and people are largely here for that reason.”


Don’t forget to say thanks

Finally, some gratitude for the work that people do goes a long way.

“Showing some gratitude has been particularly important during Covid, so we gave a lot of call-outs. We partnered with Chambers Russell lawyers who sent out a make-at-home pancake mix on ‘R U OK’ day, we sent the team a dinner voucher, and a hamper for Christmas. I think those little extra bits where we actually invested finance or time into the team had a big impact,” says Jonathon.

“Overall, we have had a significant amount of change over the past few years, and that presents its own challenges. Bringing the team on the journey and engaging them along the way has been the key. We still have plenty of work to do, but we have made some fantastic progress as an organisation and we like to celebrate that.”

Jonathon Peatfield is Chief Executive Officer NSW of Life Education joining the team in 2019. Life Education NSW was one of the leading Australian not-for-profit organisations with outstanding Organisational Health Index scores in a 2021 study undertaken by McKinsey and Company.

Jonathon was awarded a McKinsey & Company – Executive Leadership Program scholarship in 2022.

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