As workplaces around New Zealand work towards a ‘new normal’, there are a large number of Kiwis who are left to go it alone.

For the enterprises in New Zealand who are sole traders, contractors or freelance workers, they are already used to being a one-man band. When it comes to facing a global pandemic, and a fundamental shift in workplace culture, this meant that there were tens of thousands of Kiwis left without HR or financial help at a time when they needed it most. 

James Fuller, CEO of Hnry, knows the trials and tribulations of being a contractor too well. Five years ago, the accounting service business dedicated to sole traders - started as “a couple of spreadsheets at the dining room table, [with us] trying to make sense of tax payments,” James laughs. It turns out that a lot of solo workers he knew were also in the same position, so the first few customers of Hnry were good friends who had come out of full-time employment and had no idea what to do next. “We understood their situation, we understood who they were, so that has been fully ingrained in the ethos of the company from the word go: we know and we like our customers.”

Because of the close connections Hnry staff have with their clients, the business found it was able to become a fundamental source of help during Covid-19. The service also helped with managing the influx of job changes and redundancies that eventuated as a result. The feeling of ‘we’re all in this together’ was something that their advisors were able to provide to anxious clients seeking help over the past few months.  

“Other accounting firms focus on small businesses, but we are the only ones focused on freelancers – whether it’s midwives, personal trainers or taxi drivers. We were able to talk to them and say, ‘there are thousands of other people going through the same things as you and here are some of the things we’re seeing, and some of the things that are working for them,’” James says. “So, with our team, it was also about having a sense of pride that what they were doing was of huge benefit to Kiwis out there who needed our support.”

Hnry has always prioritised mental health, James says, and they continued to do that throughout noho rāhui / lockdown and beyond, offering staff the ability to use mental health services and promoting tools like the Mental Health Foundation’s Workplace Wellbeing resources during Covid-19. 

“I’m a big believer that it’s really important to take good care of your mental health, as someone who has benefitted from speaking to people – whether that’s through CBT [cognitive behavioural therapy] or other things,” James says. “A really valuable part of knowing yourself is knowing your mental health and what your triggers are. That’s something we talk about at work a lot – what are people’s triggers, what are some subconscious things that can cause us to feel anxious or change our mental perception of things. We’re very conscious that the more awareness you have of these things, the more comfortable people feel about where they’re at.” 

Hnry promoted tools like the Mental Health Foundation’s Workplace Wellbeing resources during Covid-19 to their staff. This alignment between workplace culture and staff wellbeing is one of the key components in the Mental Health Foundation’s Working Well programme, which offers a range of tools and resources for New Zealand businesses.

If you’re looking for ways to prioritise mental health in your workplace, see our Working Well Guide.