Uniting Annual Report 2020-2021

Uniting culture in FY21.


Workplace culture is very simply ‘the way we do things around here’. It’s the positive behaviours, mindsets and practices that are part of our organisational DNA.”

Our organisational culture has a huge impact on the experience of employees, which ultimately affects the experience of the people we serve. Our focus is on bringing our mission to life through an inclusive, safe, reliable, and person-centred culture.


The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in FY21 has provided many challenges in how we deliver on our culture commitment and keep people safe. More than ever, empowering and enabling our people to speak up, share ideas, and take action is critical in ensuring the health and wellbeing of our employee and clients, as well as the sustainability and resilience of our services.

Saying thank you

Our people are always at the heart of everything we do, and this year it was especially important for us to recognise some of their incredibly inspiring achievements through these unprecedented times.


Uniting’s With Heart Excellence Awards are our way of showing how much we value the many exemplars working in various services throughout the year. Employees and volunteers are nominated by their peers in this recognition program, and winners are selected by an evaluation panel.


In 2021, there were 1,351 nominees across the categories of person-centredness, safety, quality, leadership, volunteering, and our 4 Uniting values of being compassionate, respectful, imaginative and bold.


With Heart ceremonies to celebrate the award winners and years of service are usually held in person across NSW and the ACT, though the onset of COVID-19 in early 2021 saw us quickly pivot to an online format that connected all our nominees virtually. This year’s ceremonies were as uplifting as always, and you can read about some of our exceptional winners ahead.

We launched additional appreciation campaigns for our people in critical roles during the COVID-19 pandemic response. Corporate employees were able to send personalised ‘thank you’ e-cards to frontline workers in our Aged Care services. The courage and compassion of our COVID-19 Flying Squad team of volunteer employees was also recognised as going above and beyond, by preparing to support understaffed teams impacted by COVID-19 outbreaks in their areas if required.

2021 With Heart Awards

Just some of the many winners who live our values each day

Jo’s passion for inclusion for everyone, and willingness to step boldly into the D&I arena (that can sometimes feel like being a gladiator), inspires others to tap into their inner strength, and step out of their comfort zone to make a difference and help progress Uniting’s inclusion agenda.”

Bold winner, Sydney

One of our residents who suffers from mental health issues had an episode one day and was terrified. Sally lay down on the bed with her while she was screaming and kept her calm until the ambulance came. Sally’s actions meant the resident was able to get the care she needed.”

Compassionate winner, Mid North Coast

COVID-19 meant that all Aged Care and Independent Living residents were somewhat isolated. To encourage residents into a sense of community, Sonia developed the ‘Art While We’re Apart’ creative competition. This initiative enabled residents to engage with Uniting, demonstrate their amazing talents and even compete with each other.”

Imaginative winner, Far North Coast

A homeless client, who had a range of substances he was dependent on, and very challenging and socially inappropriate behaviours, was significantly unwell and for many years he needed admission to hospital for a procedure. Will gently, and over many months, worked with the client to help him understand why he needed to have this procedure. Will’s belief in the fact that all our clients deserve care, along with his abiding respect for all the people we serve, ensured an entirely successful outcome.”

Respectful winner, Sydney

Leading our culture

Uniting leaders play a key role in creating the workplace culture that our employees and volunteers experience. What our leaders say, do, measure, recognise and walk past, sets the standard for our people.

Our Uniting leadership characteristics provide clear guidance for our leaders on the specific behaviours needed to drive our desired culture, support team engagement and improve performance. Our leadership development programs and initiatives have all been designed to build capability across these areas.

Investing in our leadership

Leadership characteristics

Lead the movement

Inspires others through our shared purpose and by living our values. 

  • Lives our values 
  • Creates meaning and purpose
  • Inspires others 
Encourage the heart

Create a workplace where all people can flourish.

  • Champions wellbeing
  • Builds trust
  • Empowers others
Foster a growth mindset

Create a culture of curiosity and learning, where it is safe to try new things.

  • Grows through setbacks
  • Builds a feedback friendly culture 
  • Values diverse perspective 
Eyes up

Supports an innovative organisation that partners with others.

  • Sees the broader
  • Nurtures innovation
  • Works inclusively
Stand up

Stands up to injustice and holds self and others to account to achieve our Uniting purpose. 

  • Take courageous action
  • Drives account-ability 
  • Makes ethical decisions

In FY21, we brought our Uniting leaders together in forums for Senior Leaders and Hub Leaders – both face-to-face and online as we adapted to COVID-19 restrictions. The forums enabled our 600+ leaders to hear directly from our Executive team, stay connected to current happenings across Uniting, give each other peer support during the challenges of 2021, build leadership and management skills to support them and their teams, and strengthen our Uniting culture.


Leadership development topics covered at the FY21 forums:

  • Enabling safety
  • Harnessing green shoots and nurturing innovation
  • Ways to support personal and team wellbeing
  • Recognising and preventing burnout
  • Ethical dilemmas and challenging conversations
  • Celebrating team achievements
  • Leading in an organisation of the Uniting Church.


In addition to the forums, our leaders continued to participate in Uniting’s leadership development program, Leading With Heart.

Spotlight on Edwina Gow

Ageing, Belrose Hub

Edwina Gow is an exceptional leader, a fantastic team player and a very supportive and encouraging co-worker. When the COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold, Edwina was asked to represent her area of Ageing on the ‘staying connected & engaged’ working party. From its inception, she was a consistent driving force and a key enabler of positive outcomes.


Her leadership enabled Ageing to be informed and equipped with the resources and information needed to support our clients in continuing to stay connected and engaged. Edwina was instrumental in creating the Senior Health Hub – an online portal for Healthy Living for Seniors activities and virtual gym classes. She jointly led the project and its weekly working party, bringing together teams from across Uniting for this innovative solution to the impacts of COVID-19.


At the start of the pandemic, Edwina was one of the first to put her hand up. Even with her ever-increasing workload, she saw the need to step up and take leadership of supporting our clients to continue staying connected and engaged in their communities.

Our volunteers

Using technology, role adjustments and safety processes, many of our wonderful volunteers continued to turn up each week to support us and the people we serve, despite COVID-19 restrictions.

“I feel safer in Uniting Elanora than I do on the streets.”

Margaret Flint is a Uniting volunteer for our Elanora aged care home. She visits residents 3 days a week, every week, to offer important social support, facilitate activities and help residents live their best and chosen lives.


Margaret explains, “There are lots of safety measures in place and I feel safer in Uniting Elanora than I do on the streets. This makes it really easy to continue volunteering throughout COVID-19.”


It’s important for residents to have someone to talk to, especially during these times. When I arrive, I check into the service, wash my hands and put on my mask. I provide regular companionship and lead activities such as bingo. I maintain physical distancing and have both my flu and COVID-19 vaccinations. I couldn’t do this without the support of my manager, Zaneta. She makes it easier for us volunteers to do our jobs!”

Connecting across postcodes

Just like Margaret, this year many Uniting volunteers have been doing what they can to ensure they continue to support people safely. Using technology to connect with clients remotely has been a game changer since the start of the pandemic.


Uniting’s Phone a Friend program was launched this year to help combat the loneliness and feelings of disconnection that are commonly experienced by many of the people we serve. Clients are connected with volunteers through regular phone calls, and feedback has shown that a 30-minute chat each week can make a huge difference in someone’s life.

Bettie Taylor, Leisure and Wellness Coordinator at Uniting Starrett Lodge, shared:


Phone a Friend helps people who don’t interact in our community and group programs, to connect with the outside world and to feel safe and comfortable doing so.”

Our diverse workforce in FY21

*Culturally and linguistically diverse employees who speak a language other than English

Diversity and inclusion in FY21

Our inaugural Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Strategy was launched in FY21, building on the Uniting Church’s longstanding commitment to radical inclusion. We aspire to be a place where everyone feels safe and confident to be themselves. A place where diversity is valued, and indeed required, to co-create a better world.

To fulfil this aspiration, we’ve designed a detailed roadmap of initiatives, principles and goals to help us understand and empower our clients, nurture and value our people, and transform our communities.


FY21 began with a D&I Summit attended by over 300 staff. Throughout the year, we’ve established and grown 4 employee networks, led by Chairs with lived experience and passionate Executive Sponsors. The Ngumbadal, PRIDE, Cultural Diversity, and Disability Inclusion networks now provide a platform to amplify diverse voices and mobilise D&I champions across Uniting.


Through our calendar of special events, we’ve elevated storytelling and created practical resources that foster cultural safety and belonging. The year’s highlights included:


  • Creating an employee pronouns video, in celebration of IDAHOBIT, the international day against LGBTQIA+ discrimination


  • Forging a partnership with Settlement Services International – a non-profit organisation supporting refugees, people seeking asylum, and CALD communities to build capacity and overcome inequality – to help us develop deeper cultural capability within our teams



  • Strong leadership uptake of 3 new Aboriginal Cultural Capability modules on Ulearn, our internal training platform.

Safety and wellbeing in FY21

Uniting’s frontline services faced multiple obstacles again this year. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and regional flooding proved to be the biggest challenges, yet our teams were more committed than ever to keeping everyone safe and well. 

Our primary safety focus in FY21 was ensuring all frontline employees had the right resources, processes and PPE in place to protect themselves and our clients against exposure to COVID-19, while delivering vital community services. We developed an online screening application that was deployed to all our facilities and offices to ensure consistent pre-entry screening.  A similar screening tool was also established for our home care services and other community services and programs. 

Wellbeing matters

Recognising that the wellbeing of our teams is critical to the facilitation of ongoing service delivery, FY21 has also seen a focus on flexible work arrangements for parents, and regular wellbeing webinars and resources for all employees. 


308 people contacted our Employee Assistance Program in FY21


Main reasons why:

  • Mental health
  • Work trauma
  • Job satisfaction
  • Bullying and harassment


FY21 Uniting wellbeing webinars addressed:

  • Resilience
  • Balancing work and parenting
  • General mental health
  • Team wellbeing


In collaboration with our EAP provider Benestar, we also ran targeted sessions for our diversity cohorts to provide tailored support for each group.


Additional support sessions were accessed by teams facing increased pressures during COVID-19, including the flying squad, our regional teams and teams working on the frontline. Fortnightly wellbeing emails were sent to these teams, with links and resources available through Benestar and Uniting wellbeing.


Ulearn, our internal training platform, supplied micro-learning content to support employee wellbeing and manage potential mental health risks in the workplace.


Our internal communications team also strengthened the messages and resources available for important awareness events such as RUOK Day and Wear it Purple Day.

Getting back to work

Supporting the timely, safe and durable return to work for employees is a central objective at Uniting, and our ongoing aim is to further minimise the impact of work-related injury.


In FY21, Uniting outperformed both our industry cohort and all other employers on Return to Work (RTW) rates at 4 weeks, 13 weeks and 26 weeks. 


Data received from the State Insurance Regulation Authority (SIRA), the NSW regulator, indicates that the number of claims Uniting currently experiences is in line with other organisations in our sector, but that the cost of those claims is lower than that same cohort. This is driven largely by our superior return to work rates, and affirms our effective injury management and return to work strategies. This year, we’ve  focused on encouraging people to report incidents so that we can treat people as early as possible and avoid people having to take time out of the workplace. We know that keeping people at work is better for their overall health and wellbeing. This has resulted in driving an increase in our Medical Treatment Injuries (MTI) and Total Recordable Treatment Injury Frequency Rate (TRIFR). We have seen a slight reduction in our Lost Time Injury Rate, which is positive in the context of continuing to deliver services during the pandemic.

Less time lost to injury in FY21

Lost Time Injury (LTI) refers to any injury sustained on the job that results in a loss of productive work time.


Medical Treatment Injury (MTI) is treated by a doctor without loss of work time, other than the day on which the injury occurred.


Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate (LTIFR) and the Total Recordable Injury Frequency Rate (TRIFR) include LTIs and MTIs and are proxy measurements for safety performance.  Source: Safe Work Australia

Enabling safety

During FY21, we prioritised the identification of the specific challenges and constraints impacting our ability to improve safety outcomes at Uniting. These explorations resulted in the strategic decision to adopt a different approach, called Enabling Safety. It’s about empowering our people to develop solutions and innovations that improve the safety of their own work environment.


This approach recognises that our people are the experts at what they do, and they know better than anyone else what helps them and their co-workers to stay safe, and what might be getting in the way. 


We’re Enabling Safety through living our Uniting values. We can be:


  • Compassionate – by asking considered questions about what changes we need to make, so that any safety issues are addressed and resolved


  • Respectful – by appreciating the diversity of experience we all bring to the table, and understanding that our differences make us stronger and safer


  • Imaginative – by sharing ideas, when things go right and when things go wrong, so we can continuously improve the ways we work together


  • Bold – by always raising any concerns, without fear of judgement or reprisal, and offering new perspectives to facilitate effective solutions.


Work is underway to develop Uniting’s broader safety focus, objectives, leadership and learning tools, and supporting communication strategy to facilitate stronger leadership and employee engagement for sustained safe work performance. The new Enabling Safety approach and strategy were endorsed by the Board and Executive team, and now our top 700 people leaders are aligned with this shift in approach, and preparing to implement Enabling Safety concepts, principles and metrics throughout FY22.

Culture stories

COVID-19 Flying Squad to the rescue

Helping the helpers