Heidi Walker (Flight Centre New Zealand)

Nominee/entrant details

Heidi Walker, GM of People and Culture

Employer details

Flight Centre New Zealand

Size: 200-499 staff

Industry: Other Services

Background on entrant/nominee's employer

Flight Centre Travel Group (FCTG) is made up of several brands which include Flight Centre, Travel Associates, Travel Managers Group (leisure travel), FCM Travel Solutions, Corporate Traveller & Stage and Screen (corporate travel) and Infinity (wholesale), we are the largest Travel Company in New Zealand. Due to Covid-19, we were forced to dramatically reduce in size, now with 400 people, and over 45 stores & offices from Kerikeri to Invercargill. Our people and our culture have always been the key pinnacles of FCTG and our purpose is to “Open the world to those who want to see”.

Executive summary

There is no denying it, the past year has been difficult. There have been some tough decisions that have had to be made with reductions in our workforce and in the thick of it was our fearless GM of People and Culture, Heidi. Trying to balance gut wrenching decisions, while working to keep the morale of our existing workforce afloat has been an impossible task but the wellbeing of our people past and present was always front of mind, thanks to her leadership. Heidi has been instrumental in: * Instigating Project Remedy * Top-down mental well-being training * Engaging key stake holders

Authenticity and vulnerability

Through Heidi’s work to help Flight Centre become a more mentally healthy workplace she has been courageous to share her own experiences. In September 2020 during mental health awareness week in a segment championed by her team dubbed #shareyourstory Heidi bravely opened up and shared a message to Flight Centre about her own experience with mental health challenges. In her message to the business she included her contact with EAP, what she does to look after herself and the impact it has on how she feels on a daily basis. Adopting a top-down approach has encouraged others to share their own challenges more openly and seek support from our Flight Centre EAP services. Being genuine about her intentions to encourage a holistic health approach across Flight Centre, Heidi took on the company's annual global 8 week challenge in January 2021, which is focused on being the best version of yourself. She was regularly active on the workplace page support group encouraging and inspiring others to take on the journey themselves. Walking the talk, Heidi led her team of HR professionals to take out the global top spot for the most inspirational team change. This is judged on lifestyle habit changes, transformational photos and a testimonial to Healthwise our internal health services business. This was the first time New Zealand had won the global top spot and it has inspired others to take on their own journey of holistic health change. Rebecca Glover one of our Flight Centre travel experts sums up Heidi’s contribution to the wellbeing of our people; “The care and compassion Heidi has for others is so genuine, she has worked tirelessly to find ways to empower us and give us the tools we need to work on our mental wellness.”

Courage and leadership

Recognising that the contribution we can make as employees of Flight Centre extends beyond our internal environment, Heidi and her team came up with Flight Centre’s purpose behind wellbeing; “Encouraging the conversation around wellness and resilience”. Heidi believes that if we can better equip our staff to have conversations around wellbeing within Flight Centre this will then extend to their friends, whanau and Aotearoa. This kind of lead by example attitude has been instrumental in the progress we have made toward a more mentally healthy workforce. In January of 2020 Heidi worked hard to get sign off on external mental wellness training from the Mental Health foundation for all senior leaders. This was the first step in working toward her teams goal of 100pc of the Flight Centre business having gone through some form of mental wellness training. Heidi’s leadership saw her encourage her team to take this content and break it down into training that could be filtered through the business. A process that we can proudly say was successfully completed ending in June 2021. Heidi makes sure that Our People’s health and wellbeing is front of mind when making decisions. One example of this is the development of Project Remedy. A program created in March 2020 to support stood down or staff made redundant when the effects of the Covid 19 pandemic took hold of the travel industry (more on Project Remedy in the innovation section). To sum up Heidi’s leadership is to say she has been the driver of change within Flight Centre to encourage a more mentally healthy workplace. A saying Heidi has instilled in our team is “Be the change you want to see”. She inspires the Flight Centre business to not only be better workmates but also to be better human beings.

Engagement and communication

Heidi started the conversation around wellness and resilience within management meetings. Challenging the executive teams thought pattern around mental health. As a result of her efforts within these meetings these conversations evolved into the development of mental wellness training sessions that have now been filtered throughout Flight Centre. She has been instrumental in making sure wellness messaging is included in all communication from the business including town halls, workplace, team meetings and one on ones. She places an emphasis on showing and sharing networks of support for our people and encouraging those in the travel industry. Heidi and her team meet weekly to discuss wellbeing strategies and how these are delivered to the business in ways to engage and inspire others to look after themselves. These meetings are stepping stones into delegating actions that have led to such great success. She regularly communicates via Workplace staying visible, sharing positive messages, creating educational material and showing vulnerability in pieces such as her #shareyourstory segment. Heidi oversees the wellness messaging that is put out from her team as well as the resources that are developed. Embodying a lead by example approach Heidi has been actively involved in delivering the mental wellness training to leaders in our business. The visibility of an executive member opening the conversation around mental health has had a powerful effect on our people at all levels. Heidi strongly believes in Flight Centre being an employer of choice, this means living our core values and philosophies and creating the company policies to ensure that expectations are clear. Ongoing reviews of the past year have included refreshed Diversity & Inclusion Policies, Domestic Violence and Health and Safety policies to ensure our people are safe and confident during such a time of change and challenge.


Heidi’s work around wellbeing has had an enormous impact on our organisation at all levels. Conversations around wellbeing are occurring regularly at all levels far more often than they were 2 years ago. An example of this is the 1-5 method that has been implemented to check in on each other at the start of team meetings. The 1-5 method is a simple way of seeing how an individual is feeling daily by scoring themselves between 1 and 5. The effectiveness of such tools are clearly shown in a quote from Zak one of our Travel Experts; "I have been going through massive anxiety and having to actually ask the GP for help and now having a place to talk about it and for the team to ask me questions is great!". Flight Centre’s usage of our EAP program has been trending upward in recent years which is a result of Heidi doing things such as sharing her own journey with EAP. An increase in the use of EAP is a positive trend for us knowing that our staff are now feeling more comfortable to seek the support they need to work on any challenges they are facing. We know from the Mental Health Foundation that 1 in 2 people will experience a mental illness at some point in their life. Excluding redundancies, 85% of our people have remained with the business over the past 18 months. This is a 50% reduction in staff turnover. As we have begun to rebuild our business over 80% of those roles that have been filled by past Flight Centre employees wanting to come back to our business and family culture, this is due to the work that Heidi and her team have done to maintain relationships with our leavers via Project Remedy.


Heidi works hard as a leader to ensure Flight Centre is an inclusive place to work. She has brought a range of educational tools to the business to improve Our People’s knowledge and skillset and to challenge unconscious bias in the workplace. One example of this is in March 2021 Heidi created and delivered educational material to the wider Flight Centre business on the use of gender pronouns. This material included what gender pronouns are, why it is important to use the right pronouns, and why staff might like to consider adding gender pronouns to their email signature. She was the key driver of our recent diversity and inclusion survey in April 2021 which has produced some exciting statistics about our business; 95% of our people feel included and respected within FCTG and 39% of our workforce are caregivers. This shows things such as our Flexibility programme are working to support our people and keep them happy and healthy. Heidi has been behind creating initiatives such as share your pepeha during Māori language week. She kicked this off in September by sharing her own pepeha in video format on workplace. To encourage others to engage with the content she created a competition around this asking Flighties to also have a go at their own pepeha by sharing these on workplace. This resulted in multiple people across FCTG giving it a go, learning more about Te Reo Māori and a higher engagement in Māori language week than prior years. Heidi is thoroughly involved in the Flight Centre Foundation. She regularly volunteers her time at the annual Halberg games, one of our charity partners. Her work with Halberg has inspired other parts of the business to volunteer and this year we had 27 Flighties at the games.

Innovation and creativity

In February 2021 Heidi and her fellow executive team recognised that due to the toll Covid 19 had taken on our business there had been a lack of face-to-face connection within our wider regions. Through our work with the Mental Health Foundation’s 5 Ways to Wellbeing we know how important this is for mental wellness. To counteract this Heidi and the rest of the executive team hired a couple of campervans and embarked on a nationwide road trip connecting with Our People from Invercargill up to Kerikeri. The feedback from this trip was amazing as displayed in a couple of quotes from our people: “Thanks for coming!!! It was great to not only see you, but get our whole Hamilton crew together to catch up - it's been a while & it was fun!!” Rosie, Flight Centre Chartwell “I don't think I realised how important that person to person contact was until we had it yesterday. Great work in organising that for us SWOT.” Shane, Infinity Holidays Rotorua During the first few weeks of the Covid 19 pandemic Heidi quickly realised how devastating the impact would be on our people’s income as they were no longer be able to sell travel. Having previously researched Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and understanding that Our People’s basic needs will be impacted due to the loss of income Project Remedy was born. Project Remedy began as a way to offer opportunities for additional income, by sourcing part time or temporary employment. It evolved into a one-stop-shop platform for support, with ongoing messaging about EAP, health tips and tricks, and open communication about the business. Heidi has been behind Flight Centre's move toward a flexible workplace creating work from home options, permanent remote working agreements, and vaccination leave to coexist alongside already existing adhoc options.

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Referee details

David Coombes, MD Flight Centre NZ (Flight Centre New Zealand)

021716138 • [email protected]

Key contact

Ross Larsen, Health, Safety and Wellbeing Leader (Healthwise) (Flight Centre New Zealand)

021774708 • [email protected]

6 Months
Since posted
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