New Zealand Post was in a unique position during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, it had to manage the safety of its workforce and meet the expectations of its customers with the boom in eCommerce. To strike the right balance, NZ Post tapped into reliable resources to ensure it was able to serve people across the country and protect its workforce and their families.

As an essential service, NZ Post had to ensure the protection of all its workers, especially those on the frontline, during the various stages of lockdown. The challenge for the organisation was multi-layered, but the key to its operation was keeping the entire workforce informed and safe while they delivered goods across the country. “I don’t think anyone expected exactly how the pandemic would play out,” NZ Post Head of Talent Management and Sourcing Jonathan Later says. The spike in eCommerce activity put extra stress on the delivery network, and NZ Post had to put the safety of its people first, followed by service.”

The impact of COVID-19 put companies in difficult positions, and many have had to make bold decisions to remain operational, while they supported the safety and wellbeing of their employees. Randstad’s research, The Impact of COVID-19 on Workers and Organisations, found 52% of workers felt their organisations supported their emotional wellbeing during the pandemic. NZ Post initiated comprehensive safety briefings, sharing the latest information from the Government and Ministry of Health, which quickly became a daily update, to ensure all team members felt safe at work. NZ Post CEO David Walsh also provided regular updates on the situation and reinforcing the priority of people first. This ensured he remained visible for the nearly 5,000 people employed by NZ Post throughout New Zealand. “Our communications and leadership teams have worked really hard to ensure we have really engaged with our people, either virtually or in the workplace,” Mr Later says.

NZ Post also recruited temporary employees to help spread the increased workload and ensure the existing workforce was not overstretched from the boom in online deliveries. At the time, there were people with related experience, searching for work, including former pilots and crew from Air New Zealand. “People who had come out of organisations like Air New Zealand, which as a business has a strong customer focus and work ethic that mirrored our brand values, fitted in well at a time when help was really needed,” Mr Later confirmed.

With access to workers from companies with similar values to NZ Post, Later says they were able to get them trained up quickly to meet the needs of their customers.

The organisation also put out the call for help across the corporate team to support colleagues in operational roles. This involved helping with the large volume of freight that needed to be moved through the supply chain. “For me personally, this meant working out of our distribution centre. We all did what we could to make sure that we’re supporting the operational teams,” Mr Later says.

NZ Post did not escape COVID, and it was put in the spotlight when it had to respond to the news that members of its Auckland Operations Centre had returned positive COVID tests. This meant closing the centre while it was deep cleaned and the shift affected were required to self-isolate. Everyone was contacted regularly to check in on their wellbeing and that of their family. To help those workers who were directly impacted, NZ Post provided them with My Food Bags.

“This was just an extra bit of recognition. We know that this had been a really stressful time that they were put through before they could return to work safely,” Mr Later says.

The organisation also decided to implement a COVID hardship grant that employees could access across the business. Later explains, “That pool of funds can be made available to any employee who is able to demonstrate they have experienced financial hardship, because of COVID. Although many of our people are not the only breadwinner in their household, we know that financial hardship can come in lots of different ways. So being able to show some extra Aroha, or kindness to the workforces is really important.”

To drive NZ Post forward, the organisation is conscious about transparency and
communication, including with the unions it has partnered with. “Something important to call out is that our contractual obligations remained unchanged during this period. We were always focused on ensuring the principles of good faith, consultation and involvement all remained consistent through the crisis. Transparent leadership and transparent engagement have been really important to us as an organisation,” he says.

NZ Post is proud of the extra effort its people have put in to get results. To recognise outstanding performance by those who put in extra effort this year, it introduced a new category to its internal Gold Awards.

“We call them Te Toho Ngakau Aroha Awards, reflecting the kindness and the support that people have shown throughout this period,”

Mr Later says. A group of workers took it upon themselves to bake treats for operation teams. This initiative showed the team spirit within NZ Post and that they are all in this together.

“Examples like this really talk to the engagement and Aroha that we have, as an
organisation for each other,” he says.

Randstad’s research found that 26% of employers believe there will be a huge demand for jobs in their sector following COVID, which will create more competition among talent.

Mr Later believes that it could get easier to gather applicants if unemployment continues to increase, but regardless, organisations still need to address their employees’ value propositions. Candidates want to know: what is the nature of their work? What is their team like to work with? Who is their leader and what are they like as a leader? How will I develop? What are the opportunities for me to grow?

“Those are the questions that are front of mind for people, whether they have just entered the workforce or are senior executives,” Mr Later says. “We’ve got to be able to answer those really crisply, and authentically."