Case Study: Canterbury Linen Services

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A philosophy of respect is bolstering workplace wellbeing and driving business for a commercial laundry service in Canterbury.

Inside Hillmorton’s Canterbury Linen Service, teams of quick-fingered staff go about their daily work, as impressive european cleaning machines hum and tick through countless loads of washing.

With 125 staff working on the factory floor across a six day period, their workplace wellbeing can make or break operations.

There are hotel and motel sheets to clean and iron, and hospital bedding and scrubs to sanitise and press.

Some 130 tonne of washing is turned over each week and a whopping total of 350,000 individual items, including 60,000 towels are processed.

General manager Rod Fisher has been running a tight ship based on respect and empathy for the last 21 years.

“In a workplace this size, you’re always going to get trouble with people, that’s just the way it is. But I just encourage them to treat people with respect.”

On the factory floor, staff laugh and joke about Fisher getting in their way, and seem genuinely pleased to see their boss looking over their shoulder.

“If you can just see what the situation is and put yourself in other people’s shoes and not back them into a corner where they’re going to throw their toys out of the cot and say ‘I quit’. Let them have an out,” he says.
Fisher says the key to bolstering workplace wellbeing as a manager, comes down to leading by example.

“I just say hi to everyone each day and I encourage everyone to be decent.”

Showing staff he cares is done by way of morning tea shouts, including his regular birthday offering, which costs him “a few hundred dollars”.

Paid time off is given to go to the doctor, and as people wind down to retire, they’re able to do reduced hours and slowly work into it.

“It’s just little things like that. It all costs us a bit of money but in the end, people actually think I’m a bit soft, but I’m getting what we want. People come to work, do the job and go home and come back the next day.”

Staff turnover is low as a result and many staff members have surpassed Fisher’s 21 year stint with the company.

“Just treat people like you’d like to be treated yourself. So always think about where you’re putting the other person because nobody likes to be backed into a corner. That never makes people feel very good,” says Fisher.

Longtime employee Pauline Hinton is one of those who has been drawn into the culture of the place. She recently celebrated her 51st year with the company.

“I keep coming back so it must be alright,” she says, and chuckles.

“It’s the work atmosphere and the good boss,” she says.

For Hinton, the managerial team are “always here if you’ve got a problem and “they listen and communication with them is good”.

Staff of Canterbury Linen Services have access to an employee counselling assistance programme, which was used more so than ever in 2017.

“That was still around earthquake stress and a lot of relationship problems popped out,” says Fisher.

Every fortnight a health nurse visits the service and carries out health checks, including those on cholesterol, weight and hearing.

“The other thing we do is we provide certainty. We don’t have anybody who is casual… I just don’t think it’s fair. I wouldn’t like anybody to do that to me, so I look at how I would like to be treated and treat staff like that.”

“One of the things we do that says we care about people is the fact we provide less-able people with a job.”

Fisher is on the Catapult Employment Services board and has been taking on people, who need a little extra assistance, for several years.

Some employees had struggled to gain previous employment due to mental illness, while others had suffered from socialisation issues.

“For a lot of people here, it changes their life.”