Psychological Safety: Mana Whenua

What is 'Mana Whenua'?

The chnnl November team challenge is live, and it is all centralised around the importance of psychological safety within the workplace. We are analysing selected video clips, and spotting the hazards of psychosocial risks and lack of psychological safety in a workplace environment can impact on mental health and wellbeing. Throughout this challenge, we dive deep into chnnl's Level Up Framework through identifying psychosocial hazards, and the primary foundations are; Work Design, Culture & Leadership, Personal Factors, Social Connections, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Mana Whenua. 

In Day Four, we analysed the psychosocial hazards relating to 'Mana Whenua', which has a profound impact on the psychological safety within an organisation. When the principles of Mana Whenua are practiced effectively, this can have great positive implications on workplaces and organisational culture. In contrast, when practiced ineffectively, there is risk for psychological injury and the absence of psychological safety. Watch the video intro from Dr Liz Berryman who explains what the concept of Mana Whenua is, and why it is different to diversity and inclusion. The concept of Mana Whenua is the protection of First Nations peoples, and indigenous groups. The language in Aotearoa, New Zealand is Te Reo Māori and the concept of Mana Whenua has been brought together with consultation with iwi and indigenous stakeholders in particular the Dean of Māori, Professor Jarrod Haar, of Ngāti Maniapoto and Ngāti Mahuta descent and work by Stacey Morrison. Mana means (noun) prestige, authority, control, power, influence, status, spiritual power, charisma - mana is a supernatural force in a person, place or object. Mana goes hand in hand with tapu, one affecting the other. The more prestigious the event, person or object, the more it is surrounded by tapu and mana. Mana is the enduring, indestructible power of the atua and is inherited at birth, the more senior the descent, the greater the mana. And Whenua which means land - often used in the plural. In Aotearoa New Zealand, we have the Tiriti o Waitangi (Treaty of Waitangi) which was signed in 1840 by the Crown and 540 Māori chiefs. This founding document ensures that Māori have protection, participation, and partnership and The Treaty of Waitangi principle scalls for workplaces to understand and honour Treaty principles in all actions and decision making. It is about making our country’s bicultural foundations evident in work policies, physical spaces, whānau and community engagement, and workforce planning and assessment.

The first video below portrays the presence of 'Mana Whenua' related risks through a scene in movie; Waterman. We encourage you to watch the video alongside us, and identify what psychosocial risks might be present associated with the theme of Mana Whenua, and how this has a correlation with decreased psychological safety.

Level Up Framework* 


Mana Whenua risks:


Mana Whenua

1.6.1 Poor connection to cultural, traditions, language, heritage
1.6.2 Historical Trauma, colonisation, marginalisation
1.6.3 Poor connection to cultural, traditions, language, heritage


Business Outcomes Included:


1.1.7 Productivity

1.1.8 Psychological Safety Climate 

1.1.9 Psychological Safety (Amy Edmondson) 

1.2.0 Job Satisfaction

Employee Self Actualisation achieved:

4.1 Meaningful experiences
4.2 Opportunities to take leadership roles
4.3 Realise full potential through stretch goals
4.4 Pursuit of creativity and beauty
4.5 Sustained full potential performance

The Risks


Waterman is the movie which represents the psychosocial hazards related to Mana Whenua, and it is centralised around Duke Kahanamoku, who is known as the father of surf life saving and surfing in his community. He is a proud Hawaiian man who had never left the shores of Hawaii. He is respected in his village and is indigenous to the Hawaiian nation. He was chosen to represent USA at the Olympic trials in Pittsburg. Throughout the film, we follow his journey towards the trials, and below are some of the psychosocial hazards present related to Mana Whenua. 

1. Cultural connection 

Within Waterman, Duke Kahanamoku demonstrated a key concept of what it meant to be a 'Waterman', and that swimming in a pool was not close to his connection to the ocean. He was taken out of his environment of the ocean, and was to swim in a cold concrete pool. Within Mana Whenua, for Māori, Pacifica and many indigenous and First Nations world views, recognise that there are key connections to land and ocean. You cannot separate the person from their nature/land/ocean, and this is clearly represented for Duke. For Duke, being in the ocean was being with his ancestors, wellbeing, and whole Hauora. 

Therefore, it was a key psychosocial risk to be taken to the swimming pool as a completely new environment. While the physical change was difficult for Duke, it was the cultural environmental change which was a key factor for a lack of psychological safety. 

2. Lack of support

Although Dukes community fundraised for him to go to Pittsburg to compete in the Olympic trials, throughout the trial process, he had no support people. The lack of support would have been extremely difficult, especially given his inexperience and lack of knowledge and resources in comparison to the other competitors. He was navigating this situation on his own. 

This lack of support is a key psychosocial risk, because having a lack of support can lead to a decrease in wellbeing. This is due to not only his lack of social support, but also support from his community and people while at the event. These social risks include emotional distress, difficulty in reducing stress, and ultimately, they have a key link to the psychosocial hazards related to social connections. 

To learn more about social connections risks, click here

3. Structural racism / discrimination

In the timeframe of Waterman, it was the 1930's, which was a period of time when there was still segregation present. This was seen through the structural racism and discrimination present within the clip. Duke, however, was a famous barrier breaker in this segregation, and came through to bridge the gap between segregation. This would have been extremely difficult, and having to navigate through these challenges whilst trying to focus on competing the best that he can would have put him at a disadvantage. He fought through structural racism in a world which wasn't built for coloured people, and he did this while trying to compete in fairness with the other competitors. 

This links to the key themes in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging, related to racism and discrimination. To learn more about the impacts of these and how they are a psychosocial risk, click here.  

4. Indigenous Pressure

Throughout the scene, it was also evident how there was immense pressure for Duke form his community and people back in Hawaii, and from the public. He had huge pressure and expectations as not only was he representing his people, but he had beat the world record by 4 seconds, then he had just one race to prove himself. This pressure was huge, and he wasn't a professional athlete who had trained or been in race ennvironments before, likewise to his competitors. He had immense pressure over him, and felt the pressure of his entire community. Furthermore, if he didn't succeed, he faced challenges of emotions such as that he was letting disappointing his people and entire Nation. Not only was he competing against trained athletes too, but he had the pressure of the segregation and discrimination which was present.

There was indigenous pressure because he was representing his people, especially in a world where segregation was very present. When he experienced failure in the pool, he experienced immense backlash as a man who was a 'myth'. He experienced this failure due to a combination of psychosocial risks, and it was not a psychologically safe environment for him to be competing in through the entire process. 

5. Recognition

Within this scene, recognition of what his swimming skills were actually for was not valued. He was trained in swimming with the purpose to save lives, for enjoyment through surfing, and food (fishing and diving) and spirituality or wairua. He was being forced to “perform” for a trophy rather than for a value system that his indigineity held in a different world view. This has clear links to psychosocial hazards, and it demonstrates an environment which isn't psychologically safe at all. His skills weren't appropriately recognised, and when he experienced backlash, it wasn't a fair environment. 


How does chnnl help you measure and identify Mana Whenua hazards:

Weekly Pulse Screening and Assessment Survey: 

1. chnnl-50 questions

Through chnnls' academically validated check-in questions, Mana Whenua hazards are measured and monitored. This provides regular insight and indication towards the impact of Mana Whenua in an organisation and how this effects psychological safety, alongside wellbeing.

Example screening questions: 

"My workplace recognises and celebrates my culture, heritage, and traditions"


"I feel able to express my identity and values at work"

"My organisation allows me to bring my whole self to work"

"I feel adversely treated because of my race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability or age"

"My organisation shows authentic commitment and respect to indigenous cultures"

2. Journals 

Free text anonymous journaling for anyone in the organisation to reflect on the workplace environment, climate and culture. The chnnl AI then codes the free text into key themes and sentiments and matches them to psychosocial risk tags. These are then reviewed by a clinical team before being finalised for organisation reporting and recommended actions. Having a free text reflection tool enables deep and rich insights into the employees experiences and celebrates the protective factors in the workplace as well as the potential risks. 

3. Risk identification and mitigation

At chnnl, we use a bowtie risk matrix to identify risks and what to do before an injury has occurred, and then also to facilitate mitigating interventions in the event of a psychological injury, to ensure psychologically safe workplaces. 

See this page for expansion on chnnls' psychosocial Risk Matrix

What the Experts Say:

Morris Pita

Morris Pita, and will be unpacking psychosocial risks from a lens of "Mana Whenua". Morris is the Chief Executive at Tai Pari Mōhio Ltd the creator of Emergency Q – a platform that reduces overcrowding in hospital Emergency Departments by supporting the safe transfer of non-emergency patients to primary care.

Taking Action . . .


- As a leader you can contribute to driving your team forward and supporting their aspirations around anything to do with Māori advancement.

- Understanding the history is not the responsibility of your employer to teach you, but it is your responsibility to learn the history. Challenge people to go out and learn the history of the country they are living in!

- Try things, have a go but do it without fear drive fear out of the decision making process, step inside your heart and go for it!


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Written by chnnl Team

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