Culture has always been a unique point of difference for Lysaght and now the firm can proudly claim to have the best company culture of any small business in New Zealand.

The Tauranga and Hamilton-based land development firm won the coveted Humankind Employee Experience Award in late 2019 after its own employees told judges the company culture was “unmatched”.

“The work-life culture is amazing,” said one employee. “They pay attention to people as a group and as individuals,” said another. “The atmosphere is so positive and motivating which makes it a pleasure to work in.”

Not surprisingly, Lysaght’s staff turnover is incredibly low and surveyors, engineers and geotech experts now jump at the chance to work there. So what has made the company so successful when it comes to workplace culture?

Lysaght Director Peter Moodie says the ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ philosophy has been carefully crafted over 25 years and is now firmly embedded in the working lives of all 29 staff.

Extended 90 minute lunchbreaks are available twice a week so people can exercise, bootcamp and yoga sessions are organised, and entry fees for multi-sport and triathlon events are paid for (as well as transport and out-of-town accommodation).

“The mental and physical health benefits of exercise are undeniable,” Peter says. “This is a high stress business and we’ve got a social responsibility as employers to look out for our employees. You can’t just pay that away and let people sit in front of computers all day and think money will make up for a shorter life span.”

Some people mistakenly think Lysaght employees are all elite athletes who train more than they work. But Peter says that couldn’t be further from the truth. “We have everyone from ironmen through to people who enjoy a gentle 5km walk. None of our staff would say there’s a picnic going on here. There’s still a massive emphasis on delivering solutions for our clients and doing the best possible job. We never compromise on the quality of work we deliver but our culture certainly helps to bring out the best in our people.”

Lysaght entered the awards in order to receive honest feedback from their staff. As well as an anonymous online survey of all employees, Humankind interviewed six staff face-to-face and sought their opinion on everything from relationships to performance and overall engagement.

Peter says the process has highlighted areas where further improvements can be made.

“We have an open workspace environment and encourage what we call ‘flappy ears syndrome’ where people can overhear conversations and chip in with ideas and support. But we’ve now learned that some people find that stressful and disruptive so we’re working on how we can address that issue. It was certainly a valuable insight to have.”

Fiona Lysaght, the company’s former Director of People & Culture, says the firm’s motto is ‘enjoy what you do, or change what you do’. That willingness to listen to employees and adjust their roles to suit their needs where possible has helped create a supportive and inclusive environment.

“Everyone has each other’s back at Lysaght. From the moment a new staff member signs on, we treat them and their families as part of our team. Our approach is personal from the very beginning. We hold a lot of social gatherings and we don’t just care about that person from 8am-5pm. We’ll visit if they’re sick, babysit for them, help them move house. We’re interested in their whole family. If a person comes in, everyone gathers around them.”

Humour also plays a big part in Lysaght’s workplace, with nobody taking themselves too seriously. “We’re right on the edge in that respect and we’re happy to be there. If you’re too PC it does away with the fun factor. Having said that, we have such a broad range of personalities and it’s a very accepting group. Everyone is entitled and welcome to their own opinion.”

The company has a flat hierarchy and everyone switches desks every six months so they can learn from different team members and senior staff. “Having a flat hierarchy in the office is a good thing as long as you know where your support and mentoring is,” Fiona explains.

“We don’t have staff, they have us. I think that’s how it needs to be. We’re incredibly grateful every day to their commitment to their roles.”

Fiona and Peter flew to Wellington along with fellow Lysaght Director, Mike Stott, and shareholder Andrew Martin, to attend the Humankind Employee Experience Awards dinner last November. They were all blown away to win the best small business category.

“The great thing about winning this Humankind award is what’s important to every single one of us is our culture. The fact we won in award for that is massively significant,” Fiona says.

“What’s so clear to us is that business is all about the people. If the people part is right, everything else will fall into place. Our culture is now at a point where we’re attracting the right people and that in turn is attracting the right clients and projects.”

Lysaght’s advice for other small businesses is to figure out what you stand for before trying to establish an effective team culture.

“Culture is whatever comes naturally to you. For us it is multi-sport. Pick a thing that is genuine to you and then live and breathe it.”

If you’d like to work at Lysaght, see our current positions HERE