Wednesdays with a difference

When the world went into lockdown, the overseas staff on Waikirikiri Farm Canterbury dairy farm were a long way from home. The Reeds decided it was time to step up and help. Wednesdays may never be the same again.

Angela and Steve Reed employ a team of four on their 830-cow farm near Darfield. She says the business has always made sure staff have a good work/life balance. In the past, they’ve headed out on bike rides or iconic local tramps or gone skiing as a group, even during busy times like calving to ‘do something different and shake it up’. Unfortunately, Covid-19 lockdown ended all that.

“Not only couldn’t we get off farm anymore, but our staff didn’t have their family close, their countries were responding to a crisis and they were worried about what was happening at home. It was really a difficult thing to deal with emotionally for them.”

The Reeds decided some form of team-building, stress-relieving activity was essential. So the family got busy and created an on-farm duathalon course for their employees using their beautifully mown and native-planted roadside as a race track!

“Our kids were doing duathlon training, so I thought maybe we should use that as a starting point to do something that got our people away from work and other stresses.”

Now, every Wednesday at around 9am, staff line up for a 2km run, a 7k bike ride and then race to the cowshed to all have morning tea together and a team meeting. It’s made a noticeable difference to their ability to cope with such uncertain times, says Angela.

“We’ve just made the duathalon part of our normal weekly work routine and people really look forward to it. Our kids have made a finish line at the end and they have chocolate and treats so it’s become something that the whole crew can be involved in.”

“The team have told me: ‘It’s such a good thing to chat to each other and talk about something different and get to know each other more’.”

The duathalon has been the start of something bigger too. Angela got in touch with Farmstrong and started using its resources to begin discussions about recognising and managing stress in team meetings.

“The lockdown has really reinforced the fact that as an employer on the farm you also take on the role of the parent as well. We feel a responsibility to make sure that we’re looking after our staff in the best possible way. We’ve changed our whole staff meeting as a result. We used to start with health and safety, now we start the conversation with ‘how are you?’”

“This is an unprecedented time for people to be working in. It’s important to ask people how they’re feeling, to look out for signs of stress and fatigue and help them understand that it’s ok to talk about these things. Everyone has times when they are feeling overwhelmed. It’s nothing to feel afraid of. The important thing is to ask for help, if you need it.”

“So, we’ve started having those conversations and people are being far more open. Farmstrong has given us a platform to do that.”

Angela says trying to run a business as well as juggling kids learning online was challenging at first, but they’ve adapted. She says it’s made them appreciate what they’ve got.

“Although we are looking forward to getting out into New Zealand’s great outdoors again, this lockdown has taught us valuable lessons.  To slow down and be grateful for the little things, to realise you can only control the ‘controllables’ and to make the most of this opportunity to really connect as a family and a team.”

She says focusing on employee wellbeing over the years has strengthened their business.

“Everyone talks about production and profitability, but sometimes we forget to mention the importance of a team that is engaged and performs at the top of their game. If people’s lives have balance and they’ve done something they’re passionate about in the weekends, they come back to work with renewed energy for learning and doing a great job.”

“After all, we are asking a lot of people, getting up at 4.30am for the bulk of the season. They are big hours. So it’s only fair that we show that we appreciate what they are putting in.”

“As dairy farmers we’ve always believed that we’re in the business of enhancing wellbeing. If each family consumes say an average of 6.4 litres of milk per week in various dairy products, then our farm helps nourish close to 12,000 families in New Zealand and beyond. To make sure it can keep doing that sustainably, we have to nourish our people too.”

Sign up for the Farmstrong newsletter