Air New Zealand's human relations boss Jodie King spent a few days cleaning planes during the summer holiday peak.
''It was really hard work," she says.
The task was part of the airline's policy of getting its senior executives into the front line. During the week, King aims to talk to at least 150 staff among the airline's 11,500-strong workforce - a number that makes it one of the country's biggest employers.
More than four times that number want to work there: about 46,000 people applied for 3000 jobs at the airline in the past financial year.
King, who spent 16 years in London with KPMG, didn't quite realise the place Air New Zealand has in the national identity when she came home.
After an intense career dealing with some of the biggest corporates in Europe, she had wanted a change and to bring her children back for a Kiwi upbringing.
"I was on the partner track [at KPMG] but I was going to do something different," she says.
"I deliberately did not go on LinkedIn or reach out to any headhunters. I played a mean game of tennis, got really brown and really annoying. I was very fortunate that as soon as I popped my head up, the opportunity at Air New Zealand came up."
She did some "due diligence" among friends and soon developed an understanding of the brand and its equity and how dear it is to New Zealanders; "I quickly got that sense from talking to my friends."
King worked under Air NZ's former leader of people, Lorraine Murphy, another person brought in from outside the aviation sector.
''We were brought in deliberately to bring outside-in perspectives."
Employee engagement is one measure of an organisation's success, and King says the airline is continuing to make strides .
It runs AON Hewitt surveys of staff every two years, and last year engagement across the business was 69 per cent - up two per cent on the previous survey.
The result puts Air New Zealand in the top 25 per cent of companies in the Asia-Pacific region for employee engagement.
King says there is no ''magical sauce" to having a (mainly) happy workforce. But she has worked with some of the biggest companies in Europe and says there is one common factor: good leadership at all levels.
''The link between leadership and engagement is really strong - if you only had the money to look at one thing, you would look at the quality of your leadership," she says.
''That not only goes from the CEO to the executive, but it's all about whatever role you do in this organisation. You'll be more happy and more engaged if you're having quality conversations with your manager or leader."
Over the past five years, the airline has introduced a High Performance Engagement programme in conjunction with the unions which cover about two thirds of the workforce.
This is based on genuine consultation during all aspects of any change process, and according to a representative of the biggest union group, it's working.
The E tu union's head of aviation, Kelvin Ellis, says that from the time when workers first start, there's a collaborative approach.
''We still have the odd hiccup but there's a process for talking to each other rather than shouting at each other across the street," he says.
When the airline won awards for service, it was a reflection of the work staff did and good for morale.
Union membership is growing at the airline because the organisation is a means for staff to work alongside the company, rather than being locked in conflict with it, says Ellis.
King says staff culture is one of the three main metrics at the airline, besides customer engagement and commercial goals. It is something chief executive Christopher Luxon insists on.
The link between leadership and engagement is really strong - if you only had the money to look at one thing, you would look at the quality of your leadership.
''What I like about the executive and Christopher is that we manage all of those things together. It's not just about the commercial at the expense of the culture or the customer. Every conversation we have is about all three of those elements."
More than 1000 of the airline's frontline leaders have gone through 10 days' training over the past 18 months.
''We've invested in coaching and mentoring because we know leadership is the key to engagement," says King.
She says making a conscious decision not to use consultants to manage change has also helped build trust among staff.
"That is a big differentiator in Air New Zealand. We do have our own internal strategy team who are our internal consultants [but] I am very proud that we have not had to rely on any of the big external consulting firms that are having to assist other organisations either managing their cost base or be more profitable," she says.
''We have been very conscious of looking at ourselves over a period of years and putting in the investment and time to do it ourselves and that massively builds trust."
In other organisations, trust has been ''significantly eroded", says King.
Bonuses are one issue that can be double-edged for companies. During two years of high profits, Air New Zealand staff who are not covered by bonus schemes in their own contracts have been rewarded with bonuses of up to $2500.
But King says businesses that try to buy staff loyalty with just money - rather than a broad strategy - are playing a risky game because the good times don't last forever.
"You can't buy engagement and there have been other organisations internationally that have tried."
Air New Zealand has been under intense competitive pressure as a resurgent Qantas Group and new carriers from all parts of the market swoop in to capitalise on the surge of tourists to this country, and the record number of Kiwis travelling overseas.
King says this has demanded a company-wide response to trim costs and, excluding savings on fuel and foreign exchange, they fell by 3.6 per cent in the first half of the current financial year.
The airline restructured its call centres as it introduced a ''chatbot'' called Oscar, with all staff having to reapply for their jobs.
While E tu's Ellis says this has upset some individual workers, there were no job losses and the union had been kept in the loop.
He has said that in other sectors where technology displaced staff, his union was often called in too late to pick up the pieces.
Of the female appointments to the SLT in the past three years, more than twice as many have been internal promotions versus external hires. And of these internal promotions, 65 per cent have graduated from our internal, very intensive, accelerated development leadership programme.
Ellis is also a fan of the airline's induction programme - Kia Ora You - which it introduced in 2014. The day-long sessions are held five times a year and bring together new employees from all parts of the business.
Luxon, King and John Whittaker (chief air operations & people safety officer) speak at every event and a panel discussion is always held involving members of the executive team.
King says this is compulsory for executives who are scheduled to be there - and firmly etched into their diaries.
There is also a concerted effort to increase women's representation at the highest levels of the business.
In 2013, 16 per cent of the senior leadership team (the top 80 managers) were women. Today that percentage sits at 36 per cent and it aims to reach 40 per cent by 2020, moving towards the gender split at the airline, where 43 per cent of the workforce is female.
This is being achieved without setting quotas, she says.
In a presentation for International Women's Day last month, King said that when the airline assessed why female representation on the senior leadership team was low, it realised it had a number of great women managers yet they were deemed to be five or more years away from being ready for senior leadership roles.
''We decided then to focus on making sure our performance and talent assessment processes were truly accelerating the development of our female employees - this allowed us to create a real platform for change.''
The airline also provided many women with professional coaches and mentoring opportunities, including sessions with the executive and senior leadership team leaders.
She says she has personally hosted groups of women to hear the likes of Arianna Huffington, Oprah Winfrey and Karen Walker speak.
Six women have also attended, or are about to attend, the prestigious International Women's Federation programme, run over two residential sessions at the international business school Insead and Harvard.
There has been some real traction. ''Of the female appointments to the SLT in the past three years, more than twice as many have been internal promotions versus external hires. And of these internal promotions, 65 per cent have graduated from our internal, very intensive, accelerated development leadership programme.''
So what does it take to get a job at the airline in the first place?
King says applicants need to ''get their game face on.'' The airline looks for curious people, not satisfied with complacency and who are good brand ambassadors
"If you get a knockback, it may that the timing is just not right.''