Waka Kotahi NZTA

Nominee/entrant details

Waka Kotahi NZTA

Organisation details

Size: 1,000-4,999 staff

Industry: Other Services

Organisation background

Waka Kotahi connects people, products and places for a thriving Aotearoa. The transport system connects people, communities and businesses, helps the economy grow, and shapes the development of our towns and cities. We are responsible for maintaining this $52.2b asset. We have approximately 2,500 people including contractors, across 27 offices nationally. Our Chief Executive reports to the Board who is appointed by the Minister of Transport and is responsible for making independent decisions on allocating and investing funds from the National Land Transport Fund. The organisational structure has nine groups, covering a range of activities.

Executive summary

The Mental Health First Responder (MHFR) programme is a peer-to-peer support network of people trained to have important conversations that might change the lives of others. Currently, there are 52 trained MHFR’s at Waka Kotahi, located in all offices nationally. They are on-hand for all types of conversations, from coffee chats to walking the floors post-incident. They are people that others are naturally drawn to, so having that all important first conversation is easy. Through developing fundamental structure first, and dedicating resources to support them, this group are free to do what they do best – help support others.

Background on situation and opportunity

In 2018, we trained approximately 80 people in Mental Health First Aid. Although this had positive feedback, there wasn’t any structure or support to keep this group engaged. They weren’t encouraged to practice what they had learned, they didn’t engage and connect with our people, and they felt unsupported. In 2020, we opted for a fresh approach. We needed to have a clearer strategy, engagement plan, and resources to support. We met the challenge and created the Mental Health First Responder group, with a dedicated advisor to lead, and the formation of a MHFR support group.


CEO Nicole Rosie, and Board Director Sir Brian Roache signed the Waka Kotahi Health Safety and Wellbeing Policy in 2020. From this, our Mental Health and Wellbeing strategy was developed, which outlines our mission to ‘create a sustainable psychologically healthy environment where our people feel safe to bring their whole selves to work every day and be able to go home in a positive mental state”. The objectives: 1. Create a positive psychologically healthy organisational environment 2. Develop a proactive, fair and empathetic approach to mental health concerns, including mental illness, in the workplace 3. Support and encourage our people to engage in activities that boost positive mental health and wellbeing. The focus areas: • PROTECT: Identify risks to mental health and wellbeing. Eliminate or minimise at source where practicable • FOSTER: Develop a positive culture around mental health where people have the resources and are empowered to take responsibility for their wellbeing • SUPPORT: Provide access to appropriate workplace, peer to peer, and clinical support. The strategy outlines two key frameworks to guide decision making and help our people have better conversations around mental health and wellbeing; Te Whare Tapa Wha and New Zealand Mental Health Foundations ‘5 Ways to Wellbeing’. We will be using both frameworks in tandem to understand the context more holistically, and to associate an appropriate action or initiative to achieve our objectives. The MHFR programme is a key initiative to help achieve our objectives, focus areas, and is a preventative control measure for our internal critical risk, Psychological Harm. It is just one part of our holistic approach to mental health and wellbeing that directly links to our overall organisational strategy Te Kapehu, and its corresponding values: Ngakau Aroha | Have heart Kotahitanga | Better Together Kia Maia | Be Brave Mahia | Nail It.


Each year, Waka Kotahi will commit to train an adequate number of MHFRs, depending on office needs. Our training is currently undertaken through CoLiberate. We encourage our MHFRs to be active, providing support in offices, face to face and virtually, and during initiatives as required. Training is done annually, and a commitment is required from all MHFRs. Currently a self-selection or self-reflection process takes place to determine whether a person is the right fit for training and the role. MHFRs will agree to: • respond and support a colleague in need • understand that the responsibility is not to diagnose or fix • not take on sole responsibility to support • attend regular support group meetings and share learnings • be easily approachable and have colleagues’ best interest at heart • be a MHFR for two years. Supporting the MHFRs is key to this programmes success. A support group, coordinated by Shelley Easton, meets quarterly and is designed for sharing practices and learnings. MHFRs have access to and are encouraged to use each other to debrief, but also have EAP available following incidents and for reflection. One example where MHFR’s were stood up to provide targeted support was when a colleagues wife passed away in a terrible bus accident that was highly publicised in the media. Our colleague was the building security guard, so he was the first and last friendly face our people saw daily. His wife’s passing hit our staff like one of our own and was important that immediate support was put in place. We asked our MHFR’s to walk the floors, talking to everyone, and having some private spaces booked in case our people needed some space. MHFRs are also utilised during calendar initiatives and awareness campaigns, as are our Health and Safety Representatives.

Engagement and communication

Communicating and engaging with our people is at the heart of everything we do. We have developed a meaningful and authentic engagement and communications plan and deliver it through the use of various channels including: • CEO video updates • ‘The Way We Move’ fortnightly information email updates • ‘Workplace’ Facebook • ‘Ask our Team’ – our people survey • Support group meetings • Intranet And many more. Our annual communication plan prescribes details to raise visibility and awareness of our MHFRs, plus information about our wellbeing calendar initiatives, general wellbeing and mental health resources, and other safety campaigns for the year. This has worked well to provide transparency and information well in advance so it can be provided to our people using the right medium, at the right time (not competing with another Waka Kotahi priority – eg Road Safety Week). Support meetings is a time where you see engagement in action. Attendance is around 80% and this time is always well utilised with a full agenda. The support group Terms of Reference clearly outlines how meetings are run; agreement was obtained by all members about privacy and confidentiality when talking about issues. This creates a safe environment where our MHFRs can reflect on interactions and ask for help with difficult topics. We know this communication works when we receive invitations from teams all over the country to present our programme and wider Mental Health and Wellbeing strategy. Opportunities to get in front of teams are invaluable and identifies that the communications are being effective, for example “Thanks so much, that was really informative and provoked some great conversations within the team afterwards. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to inform us all”


We know the small conversations can make the biggest difference. The MHFR programme empowers people to have better conversations that might improve, or maybe save, their lives. That is what’s important. We committed to providing structured and systematic foundations for this programme to flourish, and we have done that. The programme is sustainable, with dedicated resources, and national support from our ELT, CEO and Board. Our organisational values are embedded in the MHFR programme, and we report up to the board and ELT on the effectiveness of the programme and highlight common issues and themes. The MHFR programme is also a key preventative measure for our internal critical risk; Psychological Harm. The programme links to all outcomes and focus areas of the Mental Health and Wellbeing plan. The strong foundations of Te Whare Tapa Wha provide a framework for holistic thinking and help our people have better conversations around mental health and wellbeing. Communicating and engaging with our people is at the heart of everything we do. We have more people wanting to become MHFR’s than we have places. This is always a sign of a successful programme. Being contacted by organisations like Greater Wellington Regional Council and Government Health and Safety Lead to speak about the programme has been a highlight. The group looks forward to continued relationships in the future. The next 1-3 years, we will continue to raise awareness of the programme with the ultimate aim of removing all barriers to access. People will know who their local MHFR is, and they will know of others they can also approach. We will continue to be invited to team meetings, conduct floor walks, initiate conversations, and celebrate our work as a group. And first and foremost we will continue to have brave conversations that may change someone’s life.


Te Ara Kotahi Waka Kotahi and Māori working together to succeed for a better New Zealand Te Ara Kotahi is the Waka Kotahi Māori Strategy, endorsed by the board and launched in 2019. It outlines five strategic pou (pillars) that support te whakakitenga (the vision). Each pou captures the intentions of how we will develop in the area of working with Māori. Our commitment to Te Whare Tapa Wha and the Māori world view when speaking about wellbeing clearly link to all of the pou in some form, but the pillar that focuses on leadership and culture is where we centre. The main intention of this pou is that we are respected by Māori and value Te Ao Māori views in the work we do to enhance the delivery of the land transport system. Within Waka Kotahi we also have the People Group who we engage with on everything from inductions to e-learning modules to access and inclusion. Many of this team will also be attending MHFR training over the coming weeks. This will help bridge the gap, increase our capabilities in communicating, and be able to have better conversations around mental health and wellbeing at Waka Kotahi. This is important to the programme as we will start to speak the same language and help strengthen the relationship between the MHFRs and HR. The aspirations for the MHFR group in the diversity and inclusion space for the next 1-3 years are authentic. We recognise and respect the need for diverse experiences and points of view in this group to expand our knowledge and awareness. If we can continue to bring diverse voices from across our offices and regions and listen to their stories and perspectives, we will succeed in valuing our peoples ‘whole selves’ which is our overall mission.

Innovation and creativity

Reporting has been of interest in this group, and how we attempt to get visibility and gain insights into the interactions we are having. They are useful to facilitate discussions on targeted support and gaps in resources. We understand this is a first for the Mental Health First Responder programme (as advised by CoLiberate) nationwide, and we have not come across any other peer-to-peer support group currently collecting insightful data. The group has started collecting monthly information about interactions and themes of those interactions, whilst maintaining privacy and confidentially. As at 24 June 2020, we have collected three months’ worth of subjective data, via the app Mentimetre. This information is presented at each support group meeting and facilitates discussions about where further support is needed, and what gaps in resources we have. We have developed a brand for our Mental Health First Responders, and other volunteer roles, using the rainbow rosette. This is familiar to our people at Waka Kotahi and is used consistently around the offices, on noticeboards, on lockers, and on email signatures. Going forward, our communications plan for the next 12 months includes using the branding on tshirts and lanyards so our MHFRs can be identified easily and will help break down barriers to access.

Supporting materials (optional)

Photograph of key staff (optional)

Link to video (optional)

Referee details

Anthony Fewster, Senior Manager, People and Process Safety (Waka Kotahi NZTA)

021367840 • [email protected]

Key contact

Shelley Easton, Health, Safety and Wellbeing Partner (Waka Kotahi NZTA)

027 2975532 • [email protected]

6 Months
Since posted
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