“Take care of your employees and they will take care of your business, it’s that simple.” Richard Branson originally said this, and for Rob Sharkie, Ruralco’s CEO this is where the magic happens. “For Ruralco, the mental health and wellbeing of employees is integral to our strategy. The Ruralco leadership team have been working on how to ensure we make meaningful progress in this space and have it ingrained within the future of our business. We know that getting this right is the key to both supporting our teams and driving productivity and ultimately the return for our farmer shareholders.”
Mental health and wellbeing is a critical part of workplace health and safety. Work Safe NZ is taking a stronger focus on mental health and over the next few years we will see wellbeing form an integral part of the Health and Safety compliance framework. Ruralco’s aim is to be well ahead of this.
Health and safety has long been part of the backbone of the culture at Ruralco; accidents and incidents are kept to a minimum and preventative measures proactively recorded. That is the safety bit ticked, but what about the “health”?
The issue of workplace health isn’t just about a walk around the block and providing some fresh fruit for employees, it is about providing a framework that supports their total wellbeing at work. It starts with the right resourcing to support realistic workloads, clarity around roles and responsibilities, and healthy boundaries to retain work/life balance. It is also about having capable leadership with a clear vision, purpose and cultural principles that are understood and shared by everyone. It is also about good communication and ensuring that every team member feels appreciated for the value they bring to the business.
“Mental health and wellbeing is a leadership mindset that is fostered throughout the total business from the Board to the front-line teams - it is part of our culture.” says Ruralco’s Group Manager People and Capability, Sarah Green.
“We have been on a journey for the last three years, layering up and building on our compliance framework and expanding this to include psychosocial hazards. By including all of our existing practices within that framework, we were then able to pull the threads together to create robust wellbeing practices which are now part of our everyday business,” she says.
“Wellbeing is part of our leadership philosophy. This puts us ahead in the market, making Ruralco an employer of choice.” It is playing a significant part in recruitment, with many prospective employees looking for an employer who values wellbeing. It is also important for staff retention, with good wellbeing practices creating resilient staff who are best placed to experience personal career success and development, which in turn helps to improve overall profitability and sustainability, says Sarah Green.
Ruralco has done some in depth work on developing its vision, purpose and culture over the past few years, and the Executive team have also reviewed resourcing requirements and made changes where necessary to take the business into the next stage of its growth phase. “We have a robust foundation for this work and a strong internal communications programme built from regularly asking and listening to understand our people’s needs. We are happy to share our learnings and the best practices that we have taken on board as wellbeing should be central to every business.” says Rob Sharkie.
One of the first steps in the process is to look in the mirror to recognise what the business is already doing. At Ruralco, staff surveys are regularly conducted to gauge impressions of wellbeing in the workplace. Healthy eating, physical activity and mental health were identified as the staff’s top three priorities, and from that, dedicated policies were created which now form some of the basis for the work carried out by a staff led Wellbeing Committee. The committee consists of staff from all layers and sections of the business, which helps embed wellbeing across the whole team. “It needs to be bottom up as well as top down. Wellbeing won’t succeed if it is being driven only one way,” says Sarah.
She acknowledges it can be difficult terrain to navigate. “We need to provide tools to create knowledge and understanding to enable our teams to be better equipped to cope with workplace and personal challenges. It’s not about fixing or putting a band aid on; it’s about creating an environment where staff feel supported and empowered”
To this end, as well as providing all the usual health care benefits such as flu vaccinations, hearing, and eye tests, EAP and such, Ruralco also provides access to financial sessions, information on how to set up a will and estate management as well as traditional information on how to access a variety of services. Ruralco has invested in training a number of staff in Good Yarn, an evidence-based, peer-delivered mental health literacy programme. It’s aims are to increase awareness of signs and symptoms of common mental illnesses; build confidence around having conversations; and improve knowledge around how to get help.
Ruralco also provides support for employees to proactively build resilience within the organisation, stemming from the definition set out by the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand to ensure our teams are “Feeling Good and Functioning Well”. Ruralco has been working closely with Author, Executive Coach and Trainer Kathryn Jackson which has led it to be the first organisation in the country to internally facilitate her “Let’s Talk” programme. A philosophy shared by Let’s Talk and Good Yarn is that we shouldn’t only rely on external experts to facilitate discussions on mental health and resilience in the workplace. Using best practice content combined with local knowledge, Ruralco is empowering its staff to generate these discussions.
“Filling the void between thriving and burning out means employees will be greater equipped to handle the challenges of everyday life. They will have bigger toolkits and more confidence to support themselves and their teams before they hit rock bottom. The way we work is changing, and all of us (employers and employees) have an opportunity to review and gently disrupt the way we are navigating stressful things at work,” says Kathryn Jackson.
Ruralco has achieved Bronze accreditation with Work Well a DHB led programme supporting businesses to establish wellbeing programs in the workplace “It’s a great place to start, especially for businesses who have no formal framework in place,” says Sarah. Ruralco is now working its way towards Silver and then on to the ultimate Gold accreditation with Work Well.
Sarah concludes “For us our wellbeing journey is now about sustainability, taking what we do to the next level, looking at ways to support our communities and other businesses to ensure the tools are available to so many more people in workplaces across New Zealand. We want to protect what we have at Ruralco and ensure it continues to be part of our BAU (business as usual) and our culture well into the future.”