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Vodafone staff build manaaki support network


Many organisations have workplace policies but how many employees know about them, have read them, and so can benefit from them?

That was the challenge Vodafone faced as it considered how to best put its domestic violence, bullying and sexual harassment, mental health and wellbeing policies into practice.

“This work was about getting the policies off the shelf and into action,” says Max Riley, Health, Safety and Wellbeing Manager. “We’d seen a rise in the number of mental health and wellbeing issues being reported, as well as a growing awareness of wellbeing, so there was an opportunity for change.”

Building on the engagement Manawa Ora (Vodafone’s Wellbeing programme) created among staff, Max and senior leaders wanted to focus on family violence, mental health and inclusive wellbeing.

“Everyone at Vodafone is important and should have every opportunity to thrive. So this was where we thought Manawa Ora could focus to make the greatest impact for our people,” says Max.

To do that, Lani Evans, the Vodafone Foundation manager, had an idea to create a network where Vodafone staff would support other staff.

“The idea behind the Manaaki Support Network was to build an empowered group of people from all levels of Vodafone. Unlike other forms of support, networks tend to be non-hierarchical which allows all participants to contribute and be valued equally, no matter their background or day job.

“We believe the network approach allows everyone to participate and learn from each other in a tuakana-teina (older person, younger person) style of engagement, which helps us to learn together.”

While many organisations have members of staff their people can approach for issues in a single area – domestic violence, for example – Vodafone wanted to create a network that would recognise how many issues interrelate and impact health and wellbeing.

Creating a support network

To get the ball rolling, Max ran a videoed session where external speakers shared their experience in these areas. This was streamed through the company using Workplace (a Facebook product that helps businesses share and collaborate).

From there they created a job description for volunteers for the support network and designed an internal application process. Next, they launched an internal communications campaign to attract people to volunteer for the new Manaaki Support Network – ‘Manaaki’ meaning kindness, generosity and support.

“We had to be careful about picking the right volunteers, both to protect their own mental wellbeing and ensure they could help others. Many of our volunteers have their own lived experience, so we needed to be sure they were going to be okay talking about these issues,” Max says.

At the close of applications, 18 staff members from varying roles, locations and business units made it onto a shortlist. 

Training the volunteers

Training for shortlisted volunteers began with a weekend away at a ‘noho marae’ – essentially a wānanga or place of learning held on a marae.

“It was a whole weekend of learning,” says Max. “We had guest speakers come in to talk about their experiences, training from the charitable organisation, Shine, around how to recognise their own conscious and unconscious biases, privilege and domestic violence.

“Following that, after assessing other providers, each volunteer was put through a mental health first aid training with St John, as we felt that organisation had both the experience and basic foundation of a programme that suited the network’s needs.”

Thirteen volunteers were ultimately selected. “I’m really pleased with the network’s cultural diversity, and that we ended up with a good spread around our main sites and business units,” says Max.

The network in action

With the support network volunteers trained, their profiles were added to the Manawa Ora hub and a promotional video produced.

“We then launched the network through Mental Health Awareness Week in October 2018 to highlight Vodafone’s commitment to this kaupapa and in support of the work of the Mental Health Foundation,” says Max.

As soon as the Manaaki Support Network was launched and the volunteers made visible – via the Vodafone hub and a purple badge on their lanyards – staff began approaching them for support.

Each volunteer documents and accounts for the conversations they have – as well as personal safety plans, key actions, and benefits for the staff member – but a non-disclosure agreement means all discussions are strictly private. The main issues disclosed so far, says Max, are experiencing stress, thoughts of suicide, and domestic violence.

“A big driver is to normalise those conversations, so if someone says they’re not having a good day mental health-wise, instead of just sympathising and not knowing what else to do, our staff can say, ‘Maybe you’d like to go and talk to someone from the Manaaki Support Network?’

“On average, someone from the network will be approached every day across the company. And that’s great – our objective is to create an environment where people can talk confidentially and safely about their concerns and know they can get the appropriate support.”

Ensuring support for the supporters

Max says one challenge has been ensuring the volunteers also get the support they need.

“Because this is all so new we’ve also been learning as we go along. Some of the volunteers have wanted to pair up for conversations – at least initially – if they didn’t feel they yet had the necessary experience to support people alone, while others have needed more professional supervision.”

If volunteers need support, they have access to Vodafone’s rehabilitation consultant or supervision via the company’s employee assistance provider. Crucially, they also have space to support each other through fortnightly catch-ups and in a private online forum.

Training will also be on-going, with Max, Lani and Vodafone’s Wellbeing Consultant, Tuihana Ohia, aiming to get the network together for more training at least twice a year.

“We’re collecting feedback and we’re asking volunteers to proactively tell us what training they want to continue building capability. We need to be sure the network stays relevant and meets the needs of our people,” says Max.

Growing into the future

Almost as soon as the first group of volunteers was selected, Max says people started asking when more volunteers might be taken on.

“There’s definitely potential to grow the network, especially as we know the demand is there, so we will be recruiting more volunteers in the near future.

“Ultimately we want this network to be self-sustaining. We want the work to be led by the wider Vodafone whānau and volunteers. Our role is to support them, to provide the network with access to the resources and training they need to support others and to take care of themselves.”

Max says the feedback from staff has been incredibly positive and constructive. “We’re delivering on a big kaupapa here – tackling mental health and wellbeing. Our CEO and Human Resources director have a huge passion and interest in this space. It was really important to get it right and deliver something meaningful for our employees.”

The support network has caught the attention of Vodafone globally, and Max says it’s something the company is looking to introduce in other sites across the world. “All of Vodafone around the world has now adopted a domestic violence policy that includes 10 days’ paid leave. New Zealand and Australia have led the way and inspired this to happen. 

“That’s really great for us and proves we’ve created something really unique.”

For resources to help you build your own support network, see the attached job description and the volunteer application form. Also email Tuihana for more information.


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