When noho rāhui / lockdown hit, and Messenger Services Limited (MSL) was deemed as an essential service; there were two foundational components of the company that helped them move quickly and carefully react with little time.
The first part is that as a time sensitive industry, the courier business was already used to working in a high-pressure environment. But the second part was more crucial –MSL was thriving in a proactive and empathetic environment that prioritised the mental health and wellbeing of their staff and contractors.
“The main thing was communicating clearly with our people, as they were about to enter something they hadn’t encountered before,” Phil Clarke, MSL General Manager says. “We had to ensure the messages were clear and concise and they also had positive reinforcement around them as well, letting our team know the decision-making was around their care and their wellbeing, and what they needed to do for not only themselves but for their families and whānau.”
Phil says the message of MSL has always been simple. “We talk about the most important thing is that all our people return home to their loved ones at the end of each day and the wellbeing, both physical and mental of our people, is more important than the freight that we move.
“We’ve got strong values at MSL and it’s all underpinned by manaakitanga and it is critical that our team know that MSL is a safe place for them, where they are shown respect, aroha, they have a purpose and an opportunity to grow.”
Manaakitanga is so important to MSL that it is part of the branding for the company. “We’re a service-based business but we’ve also got to make sure that people feel safe and secure when they come to work, and also safe and secure in the decisions they have to make.”
That level of trust became crucial when MSL, in their position as an essential service, was responsible for helping to connect Kiwis throughout noho rāhui, including delivering online grocery deliveries for Countdown, urgent medical supplies and Covid-19 testing results. “New Zealanders were relying on us and we also needed to make sure that the services we provide were done in a way where our contractors were protected, and so were the people receiving the products.” New systems, like contactless delivery, as well as emergency sourcing of personal protective equipment like masks, gloves and hand sanitiser.
That trust, again, also came into play when people felt safe and able to opt out of coming to work “Some were worried and that was no problem as we gave them take the time they needed,” Phil says. “We also had people that wanted to come into work, but they lived with their older parents or had kids who were asthmatic, so we stayed in contact with all of them. Our team leaders regularly called them so they knew they were still part of our team and important to us, and if we could provide anything they needed.”
In June last year, the company had gone through training with the Mental Health Foundation – an initiative that was, again, prioritised from Freightways CEO Mark Troughear and brand general managers. The CEO went so far as to attend meetings and prioritise mental health discussion at executive and board level. This multi-level respect for mental health and wellbeing means that the company now treats mental health issues with the same care and attention they would for physical health issues. “It’s no different to a broken arm – if you’re not feeling right mentally, it’s the same as not feeling all right physically,” Phil says.
The training helped employees know the right questions to ask, who they can turn to, and how to look after each other. That’s never been more important than in this Covid-19 recovery phase. “We’ve had someone in one of our brands not bounce back so we’ve wrapped support around them as much as we can,” Phil says. “It’s good that we can now recognise these things; it breaks down the barriers that tell you to keep everything inside. Just recognising that a couple of simple words can make a big difference to somebody.”
It’s an attitude that is an ongoing part of the business, he says. “If anyone was to say, ‘Oh, tell so-and-so to harden up,’ then someone like myself or another one of our team would make that person accountable, and say, ‘Hey, there’s obviously something you don’t understand. Come and have a yarn with us, cos that’s not how we think around here.”