Winners announced for 2021 HeadFit Awards


    (Auckland – 31 March 2022)

    Workplaces from across Aotearoa came together tonight for the 2021 HeadFit Awards – a celebration of the people and teams who are helping transform how we talk about and address mental health at work. 

    Air New Zealand dominated, taking home an impressive three awards – with Darren Evans winning ANZCO Foods Employee of the Year, and the company taking out both the Xero Innovation and Technology Excellence award and the coveted WorkSafe Supreme Award for the organisation’s outstanding leadership and work to support the mental wellbeing of staff. The judges described Air New Zealand as “a true leader in this space, demonstrating dedication and commitment to the mental health and wellbeing of its people – heartfelt, heart led, thoughtful and intentional.”

    Ground-breaking surf therapy programme Surfing for Farmers – took home the Ember Innovations Provider of the Year award. Over 4,000 farmers have benefitted from the programme, which gets farmers away from the intensity and isolation of the farm — connecting them with surfers and the wider community for weekly learn-to-surf evenings. The judges remarked that “this programme has been wide-ranging, innovative and impactful – a fun, friendly and connective away to strengthen the mental wellbeing of farmers.”

    A key theme of the awards nominations was the power of staff with lived experience to lead and make a big difference within their workplaces. From Xero Managing Director Craig Hudson winning the Russell McVeagh Leader of the Year, to Fonterra’s Michelle Ortega taking home the PwC New Zealand Lived Experience Leadership award – it is clear that staff with lived experience of mental distress, mental illness and neurodiversity are playing a crucial leadership role within the workplace. Finalists and winners had differing degrees of seniority, showing that leadership and positive change can come from many different levels in an organisation.

    The construction industry in New Zealand was well-represented at the awards, with multiple construction industry finalists. Cook Brothers Construction won the nib New Zealand Best Emerging Programme award and franchisee G.J. Gardner Homes Manukau Major Projects took out theSpark Small Workplace of the Year award, with Leigh’s Construction being recognised as Highly Commended by the judges. In an industry experiencing poor mental health and high rates of depression and suicide, it is heartening to see companies of varying sizes taking this topic seriously and working hard to support and improve mental health at work.

    Kiwi sports icon and mental health advocate, Sir John Kirwan, was also honoured tonight – being awarded the AIA Vitality Legend Award for Lifetime Achievement for his outstanding leadership and contribution to the improvement of mental health within the workplace and beyond.

    “At a time when mental illness was shrouded in secrecy and weighed down by stigma, JK led the way — giving us permission to open up and seek help,” says HeadFit Awards Convenor Grant Pritchard. “He hasn’t stopped leading either. JK has worked tirelessly to help workplaces face into mental health challenges and start taking action.  Perhaps more than any other New Zealander, Sir John Kirwan has helped change the conversation and smash the stigma on mental health in this country.”

    Other winners on the night included Ross Larson from Flight Centre New Zealand, who was named All About People Specialist of the Year2degrees, which won The Warehouse Group Best Targeted ProgrammeSimpson Grierson,which took home the EMA Learning & Development Excellence award; Aurecon,which was awarded the Benestar Engagement & Communication Excellence award; Beca, which was presented with the Ministry of Health Large Workplace of the Year award; and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, which scooped up the Woo Wellbeing Public Sector Workplace of the Year Award.

    “A huge congratulations to our 2021 finalists and winners,” says Pritchard. “We are so proud of the aroha and mahi they’ve shown in improving mental health within their organisations. These awards are just the icing – the cake is the positive difference that they’re making in their workplaces and beyond. We’re only just getting started when it comes to mental health in the workplace, and I can’t wait to see the nominations rolling in for this year’s awards.”

    “The HeadFit Awards would not be possible without the generosity and support of Principal Sponsor WorkSafe, and sponsors AIA VitalityAll About PeopleANZCO FoodsBenestarBusiness Leaders’ Health & Safety ForumEMAEmber InnovationsGroov by MentemiaMinistry of Healthnib New ZealandPwC New ZealandRussell McVeaghSparkThe Warehouse GroupWhittaker’sWoo Wellbeing and Xero. The last 12 months has been an incredibly challenging time due to COVID disruptions, and we’d like to particularly acknowledge the patience and kindness of our sponsors – who have been accommodating and supportive at every turn.”

    The Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand has been appointed as charity partner for the awards, with HeadFit Foundation directly supporting the Mental Health Foundation and running a high-profile fundraising event the week of the awards. “We’re so glad that the HeadFit Awards is allowing us to shine a light on workplaces that are leading in the mental health space, as well as supporting the Mental Health Foundation,” says Pritchard. “It has been a tough season for them, with fundraising levels significantly eroded due to COVID. We’re working to raise $50,000 for the Mental Health Foundation, and have matched all donations on our fundraising page in the leadup to the awards, up to a total of $25,000 in matched donations.”

    Mental Health Foundation CEO Shaun Robinson adds “We’re so grateful for the support of the HeadFit Foundation team during this challenging time. Workplace mental health matters, and our staff are working hard to create practical tools and resources to help workplaces prioritise mental wellbeing and improve their culture, policies and processes. We congratulate every winner and finalist for making a positive difference to the world around you at work. We can’t wait to share your good work and encourage you to keep going and keep sharing what’s working for you so that other workplaces can be inspired. Thank you for doing your part and helping create a more mentally-healthy future for all New Zealanders.”


    The complete list of 2021 HeadFit Awards finalists and winners is below and at Award winners are available for interview.

    Individual Award Winners

    Award NameAward DescriptionFinalistsWinner
    All About People
    Specialist of the Year Award
    Recognising an individual in a formal HR, Health & Safety, Wellbeing or Diversity & Inclusion role who has demonstrated excellence and leadership in workplace mental health.Sarah Bulkeley
    Simpson Grierson
    Ross Larsen
    Flight Centre New Zealand
    Nicky Primrose
    Mitre 10  
    Ross Larsen
    Flight Centre New Zealand
    ANZCO Foods
    Employee of the Year Award
    Recognising an individual staff member or manager who has gone above and beyond to help improve mental health within the workplace.Saphal Acharya
    Giesen Group
    Darren Evans
    Air New Zealand  
    Darren Evans
    Air New Zealand
    PwC New Zealand
    Lived Experience Leadership Award  
    Recognising an individual with lived experience of neurodiversity, mental illness or mental distress, who has demonstrated leadership by role modelling, reducing stigma and driving positive mental health conversations.Jason Haitana
    Northland DHB
    Michelle Ortega
    Hannah Young
    Parallaxx (Highly Commended)  
    Michelle Ortega
    Russell McVeagh
    Leader of the Year Award  
    Recognising a senior leader (eg. director, CEO, direct report of CEO) who has demonstrated leadership in improving mental health within their workplace.Craig Hudson
    Mark Lewis
    Lane Neave
    Dr Tony Smith
    St John
    Heidi Walker
    Flight Centre New Zealand  
    Craig Hudson
    AIA Vitality
    Legend Award for Lifetime Achievement
    This lifetime achievement award recognises an individual who has devoted much of their working life to improving workplace mental health in New Zealand. It is not open to self-nomination. Sir John Kirwan

    Programme & Excellence Award Winners

    Award NameAward DescriptionFinalistsWinner
    nib New Zealand
    Best Emerging Programme Award
    Recognising a new workplace mental health programme that is showing significant potential to improve mental health within the workplace.Cook Brothers Construction
    Refining NZ
    Cook Brothers Construction
    The Warehouse GroupBest Targeted Programme AwardRecognising a workplace mental health programme demonstrating significant positive mental health impacts for a targeted group of staff.2degrees
    nib New Zealand
    St John
    Innovation & Technology Excellence Award
    Recognising the outstanding use of innovation or technology to improve workplace mental health outcomes and culture.Air New ZealandAir New Zealand
    Learning & Development Excellence Award
    Recognising excellence in the design and delivery of learning resources and programmes aimed at improving mental health awareness and capability.Beca
    Leighs Construction (Highly Commended) Simpson Grierson
    Simpson Grierson
    Engagement & Communication Excellence Award
    Recognising excellence in engaging and communicating with staff in relation to mental health within the workplace.Aurecon

    Workplace & Special Award Winners

    Award NameAward DescriptionFinalistsWinner
    Ember Innovations
    Provider of the Year Award  
    Recognising an external provider of workplace EAP services, technology solutions, consulting or training services that has demonstrated innovation, leadership and positive impact in improving mental health within New Zealand workplaces:Blueprint for Learning
    MATES in Construction
    Surfing for Farmers
    Surfing for Farmers
    Small Workplace of the Year Award
    Recognising an employer with up to 200 employees that has demonstrated leadership, innovation and impact in improving mental health within its workplace.Lane Neave
    Juno Legal
    G.J. Gardner Homes Manukau Major Projects
    G.J. Gardner Homes Manukau Major Projects
    Ministry of Health
    Large Workplace of the Year Award
    Recognising an employer with over 200 employees that has demonstrated leadership, innovation and impact in improving mental health within its workplace.Air New Zealand
    Flight Centre New Zealand
    Z Energy
    Woo Wellbeing
    Public Sector Workplace of the Year Award
    Recognising a public sector workplace that has demonstrated leadership, innovation and impact in improving mental health within its workplace.New Zealand Land Search & Rescue
    Waka Kotahi NZTA
    Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency
    Supreme Award
    Recognising the organisation that the judges consider has demonstrated the greatest degree of leadership, excellence and positive impact relating to mental health within the workplace. Air New Zealand

    About the awards
    The HeadFit Awards is New Zealand’s first national workplace mental health awards programme. They were established to celebrate individuals, teams and workplaces who are leading in the area of workplace mental health and have three primary goals:

    • raising awareness of the critical role workplaces can play to support positive mental health for staff
    • showcasing the work of winners and finalists to inspire and support other workplaces
    • supporting the Mental Health Foundation as they work to improve mental health for all New Zealanders

    About the livestream
    The winners were announced during the 2021 HeadFit Awards Ceremony livestream at 5pm on Thursday, 31 March 2022, which included:

    • Watch from your place: The awards ceremony livestream broadcast simultaneously on LinkedIn, YouTube and Facebook, with viewers able to watch the event from any PC tablet or smartphone — or watch it on the big screen via Chromecast or the YouTube app on compatible Smart TVs.
    • Insight from guest speakers: We heard insights from innovators and leaders from across Aotearoa, expertly hosted by broadcaster and MC, Wilhelmina Shrimpton.
    • Party at your place: Finalists and their supporters wer able to dress up and get together with friends, family or colleagues to celebrate in a way that they were comfortable with.
    • Sounds of Aotearoa: Kiwi artist MOHI will performed three original songs, including an exclusive performance of his brand new single Te Aroha Mauroa / A Forever Kind of Love.
    • Celebrate, share and win: Thanks to the amazing team at Mitre 10, we’re giving away a $1,000 Gift Card in connection with the awards ceremony. Learn more.

    About HeadFit
    HeadFit provides mental wellbeing training, development and consulting services to New Zealand workplaces. HeadFit was created to help workplaces take a fresh look at how they do mental health at work. Because if we can change how we do mental health at work, we can change the world.

    About the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand
    Mental Health Foundation is New Zealand’s leading mental health charity. It provides resources, information, advocacy and programmes aimed at helping to create a society that is free from discrimination, where all people enjoy positive mental health & wellbeing.

    Media contacts

    For more information and interviews please use the following contacts or the contact details at

    • Grant Pritchard
      HeadFit Foundation
      Mobile: 021 343 121
    • Mark Wilson
      Team Lead, Public Relations & Media Engagement
      Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand
      Mobile: 021 998 949
    Principal Sponsor
    Charity Partner
    Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand
    All About PeopleBusiness Leaders' Health & Safety Forum
    HSE Global
    nib New ZealandSpark
    Top Drawer Consultants
    Whittaker'sWoo Wellbeing

    Selected sponsorship packages are still available. Please call 021343121 or submit an enquiry form to request a sponsorship prospectus and talk through the available options.

    Event Support Partners
    Awards Trophy & Engraving ExpertsCreative Eye
    Dave Simpson PhotographyMatley Chartered Accountants
    Mitre 10Outspoken
    Our 2022 winners have been announced!
    Check out the media release and photos from the night!
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