Anngret Sisask (Ministry of Social Development)

Nominee/entrant details

Anngret Sisask, Workplace Mental Health and Wellbeing Lead

Employer details

Ministry of Social Development

Size: 10,000+ staff

Industry: Public Administration and Safety

Background on entrant/nominee's employer

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) is responsible for New Zealand’s social welfare system, providing employment, income support and housing support, community partnerships and programmes, and social policy and investment advice. We have more than 10,000 diverse staff nationwide. New Zealanders access our services through 120 service centres throughout the country and by phone or online. Our people work with clients often facing stress and insecurity. Many of our clients are vulnerable and have experienced trauma. It is our purpose to help New Zealanders be safe, strong and independent.

Executive summary

This nomination is for Anngret Sisask, Workplace Mental Health and Wellbeing Lead at the Ministry of Social Development (MSD). Anngret is a registered psychologist, and a leader in her field of occupational psychology and wellbeing. She is passionate about making positive changes for our staff when it comes to managing workplace psychosocial stressors, building resilience and improving mental health. She is responsible for providing strategic advice and developing an overarching MSD wellbeing strategy, leading organisation wide wellbeing related activities as well as developing and delivering a range of tools to support staff, both online and in person across the country. Anngret’s thought leadership, passion and expertise has made her highly successful in her role. She has facilitated over 75 wellbeing sessions aimed at growing organisational awareness and competency at all levels, this year alone, with over 125 sessions over the past 12 months reaching around 2000 staff.

Authenticity and vulnerability

Anngret has been a registered psychologist for the past 13 years and worked in both clinical and workplace settings in both Australia and New Zealand. Anngret specialises in Occupational Health Psychology which focuses on all aspects of workplace mental health and wellbeing. Her experience includes psychological assessment, counselling and treatment, workplace psychological injury management, mental health and wellbeing education and supervision as well as clinical and non-clinical advisory services. Anngret previously worked in MSD as a Regional Disability Advisor, before her passion for wellbeing was recognised and she was appointed as the Workplace Mental Health and Wellbeing Lead. The transition into the wellbeing space has been both challenging and rewarding for Anngret as the Ministry developed its understanding of and matured significantly in the wellbeing space over the past two years. When she has the chance, Anngret likes to get outside and enjoys running to help her detach from work. She is also a professional dancer, dance teacher, adjudicator, and mother to two great children. Anngret has said that she can’t imagine herself coming to work and not being committed to wellbeing. In feedback from other staff who have attended Anngret’s sessions, she has been described as down to earth and easy to connect with. Her work with line managers has been particularly valued and teams have experienced tangible benefits from her sessions. This is highlighted in the Testimonials document attached to this application.

Courage and leadership

Anngret’s credibility and subject matter expertise has been instrumental and a key support for shaping our thinking and the evolution of what wellbeing at MSD looks like. Anngret oversees the MSD wellbeing strategy - our approach to strengthening our culture so our people have enhanced wellbeing and greater work satisfaction, and the organisation achieves improved customer service, higher performance, lower unplanned absence, and reduced turnover. Anngret has led the development of a workplace wellbeing framework which envisions MSD as a healthy workplace where people have a sense of purpose, feel valued, are thriving and show compassion towards self and others. Equipping our managers with the skills to lead and care for their people, and to care for their own mental health and wellbeing has been a particular focus for Anngret. She has facilitated numerous manager wellbeing sessions, in person and online, that have consistently received positive feedback. Topics covered: Core aspects of workplace mental health and wellbeing including recognising the stress placed upon managers and effective ways to manage it, how to create a mentally healthy work environment, recognising and managing risks to mental health at work, psychologically savvy conversations and importantly managers’ own self-care and supports available to them. The extent that Managers now proactively seek Anngret’s advice is a clear sign that her work is helping us normalise these subjects as part of the day to day practice of good management. A key component to this success is Anngret’s focus on taking the fear out of discussing mental health issues including suicide, and empowering every person to have the confidence and awareness to reach out to anyone whether they are another MSD employee, a client, a friend or family member, or even a total stranger when they need help.

Engagement and communication

Anngret provides thought leadership, expert specialist advice and professional support in the area of health and wellbeing, including leading the design, development and implementation of an MSD wide Wellbeing Strategy. Some of the work which Anngret has done to engage and communicate with the MSD whanau include:  Leading workshops across the country to engage with managers and staff in the regions  Creating and leading a variety of Wellbeing sessions that run on Zoom, allowing for staff nationwide to attend  Expanding and supporting Poutuarā – our peer support network  Creating a range of resources available on our intranet pages which discuss wellbeing topics  Creating collateral and infographics that are based upon international research and evidence. These resources are available to all staff who need them. Delivering client services during COVID-19, when MSD staff themselves were dealing with the pressures of lockdown, added new dimensions to the challenge of how we could best engage with our people. From the outset of the pandemic, Anngret recognised that staff, and managers, would need targeted support to help them through the months ahead. She worked with colleagues to develop self-help resources and guides to keeping well while working remotely, and, as the pandemic continued, devising content for online delivery. Webinars she has delivered in the past 12 months include sessions on coping with anxiety, emotional intelligence, destigmatising mental health, and dealing with bullying. During the national level 4 COVID-19 in 2020, Anngret developed a series of digestible and informative briefings which provided staff with resources to manage their wellbeing during the lockdown and the transition back to work. This illustrates not only the value of Anngret’s expertise during this time, but her flexibility when it comes to communicating with a varied audience.


The impact of Anngret’s work is tangible and significant. The vast array of content Anngret had produced or advised on has been well received by staff. Many examples of these are included throughout this application, with some additional impacts covered below. The staff workshops that Anngret runs have been hugely successful. The topics include recognising stressors and stress management, building resilience and self-awareness, physical and mental self-care, emotional intelligence and other areas relevant to workplace mental health and wellbeing. Anngret has also run a number of successful manager workshops, the detail of which were previously covered in the section on courage and leadership. We have attached some excerpts of feedback from individual staff who have attended one of Anngret’s sessions to illustrate the individual impact she has had. Another example of the impact Anngret has had is Poutuarā – our peer support at MSD. Poutuarā is a network of staff who have been trained to provide first line support for colleagues who wish to talk about anything related to their wellbeing. Anngret has helped lead the expansion of the Poutuarā network over the last 6 months, extending the number of peer supporters from 22 supporters, to 75 across the country and designing a support programme that ensures they are trained and equipped to respond to a range of issues, including mental health first aid responder training, implementing mechanisms to ensure our peer supporters get the mentoring and supervision they need as well as developing a range of communication to promote the programme. The impact of her work supporting line managers to build supportive, wellbeing focused cultures at our sites, assist teams with the response and recovery from trauma and other significant events, and build capability to recognise and manage mental health issues in the work place has been recognised and appreciated by many across MSD.


The wellbeing work which Anngret leads is focussed on ensuring that all MSD staff have access to the resources they need to enhance their wellbeing. We are a large and diverse organisation with over 10,000 staff across the country. 24% of our people identify as Māori; 17% percent Pacific; 15% Asian 1.5% Middle Eastern, Latin American or African; and 60% percent as European. Anngret provided her guidance and expertise toward the development of Pā Harakeke, MSD’s Wellbeing Plan. It’s a serious leadership commitment and financial investment – over $3 million over the next four years – promoting our peoples’ wellbeing and the impact this will have on the clients, families and whanau we serve and our wider communities. Pā Harakeke was put in place to build the resilience our people need to serve and support our clients who are often under great stress, particularly with increased pressure from the impacts of COVID-19. Pā Harakeke builds on and boosts long-standing initiatives such as our Women’s, Disabled, [email protected], Pasefika Heleva and Asian networks, our four annual regional Māori hui and our peer support network. It also introduces new areas, particularly mental health training, building the capability of managers and better equipping staff with skills to look after themselves and their colleagues.

Innovation and creativity

As covered previously in this application, Anngret has led the development of a wide variety of workshops and collateral which are innovative within the NZ public service. Her emphasis on wellbeing has resulted in a new approach to a variety of existing systems as well. Anngret oversees the MSD wellbeing strategy which includes developing our approach to strengthening our culture where our people have enhanced wellbeing and greater work satisfaction. This has included the development of a wide range of resources for our people, as well as challenging the current practises of the organisation. The thought leadership Anngret has provided has influenced the way our managers think about wellbeing across the organisation. This is through the workshops she has developed and delivered, as well as the various other communication material she has created. Anngret continually seeks new and innovative ways of placing mental health and wellbeing at the forefront of our thinking and integrating wellbeing into business as usual. She looks for mechanisms that will capture peoples’ interest and simplify topics that can be confronting for some people. We are happy to provide examples of work that Anngret has had primary responsibility for developing or leading if requested.

Supporting materials (optional)

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Referee details

Pauline Stenhouse, General Manager, Health, Safety and Security (Ministry of Social Development)

029 236 1878 • [email protected]

Key contact

Leisa Sisley-Steele, Manager HSS Strategy and Risk (Ministry of Social Development)

0292006691 • [email protected]

6 Months
Since posted
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