Our team has collectively spent thousands of hours facilitating mental health and wellbeing workshops with leaders across diverse organisations and industries.  Our team of organisational and clinical psychologists has also spent many hours speaking with hundreds of leaders about how we can better support wellbeing in our workplaces.

What this means is that we know our stuff when it comes to navigating the wellbeing challenges facing working people in Aotearoa New Zealand. More importantly, we know about the opportunities that these challenges create for leaders to support their people’s wellbeing and ability to thrive through proactive wellbeing strategies that work.

The FAQs reflect just some of the many conversations we have been having with leaders about how to create effective wellbeing strategies. We hope our short responses will spark ideas for you to begin conversations and tailor them your organisation’s unique wellbeing challenges.

Your questions, our answers: wellbeing strategies that work

The good news is that a proactive and evidence-based wellbeing strategy could not only deliver positive outcomes for your people but also an average return on investment of $5 for every dollar you spend.1

The hard part of this equation is figuring out how to ensure that this ROI is maximised in terms of financial gain but also, crucially, so that your people’s wellbeing is actually improving. 

You can read our detailed recommendations here, or read the abbreviated version below:

  • First, you have to know your purpose. Identifying a clear purpose will form the foundation for success. This step may be easy for you – you may already know – or you may want to have conversations with your people to help you to be clear about your purpose e.g. What do you hope this programme will achieve? What change will you see across your business if you’re successful?
  • Before we do anything to progress a wellbeing agenda, we need to know where people are at today. In terms of wellbeing, how confident would you be right now to predict how your people are doing? If you are sure, that’s great, carry on. If you’re not confident, how do you find out how your people are doing? Good data will help you know your people and get an accurate measure of levels of wellbeing. At Umbrella, we run Wellbeing Assessments with organisations to help figure out what their strengths are, and what opportunities they have to provide targeted support to those who need it most. Whatever your method of getting data and knowing your people, it’s important that you are able to identify with confidence the areas that people need support with. This is part of delivering a proactive wellbeing strategy that delivers tailored interventions uniquely suited to your business and your people.
  • Once you have the data, use this detailed knowledge of your people’s wellbeing and associated organisational factors to inform and tailor a unique wellbeing programme for your people, through strategy, planning and, finally, action. For example, if your managers are struggling the most with maintaining healthy and resilient behaviours, then the necessary action you might take would involve behaviour-change training in this area. Whether the actions you take are isolated interventions or comprehensive programmes of activity, all actions should map on to what you already know about your people and your workplace and bring you closer to achieving your wider wellbeing goals.
  • Last of all, regular review of your wellbeing strategy is key to make sure you are on track towards reaching your overarching purpose and helping your people. A pulse check can identify improvements, stuck points and areas for further attention or intervention. 

Umbrella Wellbeing

1 Deloitte (2020). Mental health and employers: Refreshing the case for investment.

At Umbrella, we recognise that everyone has different motivations for prioritising the wellbeing of their people. Often, people report a mixture of the following motivations:

  1. There is a legal duty of care to support and protect people’s wellbeing in the workplace. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, it is an employer’s obligation to care for the mental health and wellbeing of their people. Traditionally we’ve had a focus on physical health and, with the rise of mental health awareness, leaders are asking for support to better understand their obligations and meet them.
  2. Around 20% of us in any year will experience a mental illness and the stress we experience at work is often a major factor contributing to this distress. Morally and ethically, it’s the right thing to do to look after our people.  He Tangata, He Tangata, He Tangata … the most important part of our workplace is the people, the people, the people.
  3. When people are thriving, they are more productive and more engaged at work. The research tells us the ROI for wellbeing and mental health in your workplace is, on average, $3 for reactive support and $5 for proactive support.1 Based on previous research, we know that the ROI is supported by the fact that:
    • employees take fewer sick days (absenteeism)
    • presenteeism is reduced – productivity is improved
    • there is reduced staff turnover and cost of replacing staff
    • there is a brand bump for companies that are known to take staff wellbeing seriously
    • ability to attract talent in tight human resource markets is improved
    • businesses are better able to cope with shocks (e.g. COVID-19).

Interestingly, during our Mental Health Awareness Week workshops, we asked the >200 leaders what they thought the return on investment was. The most common answer was $10, with some indicating $100:$1 return. Although there is not one measure that indicates wellbeing, there’s increased awareness of the potential positive impact.

At Umbrella, we believe that wellbeing in business is not just about having an EAP service available or fruit on the table. It is about proactively implementing a wellbeing programme that supports your people and your business to thrive, especially during times of uncertainty and economic turbulence.

1 Deloitte (2020). Mental health and employers: Refreshing the case for investment.

Each of us is responsible for our own wellbeing and to contribute as part of an organisation’s overall wellbeing. A successful wellbeing strategy will embed wellbeing at all levels of the organisation, with each tier serving a specific purpose to achieve your wellbeing goals.  

What might this look like in practice?

  • Having clear expectations of what wellbeing looks and feels like at our workplace.
  • Supporting individuals to develop resilient practices to raise awareness and improve their own wellbeing.
  • Building peer teams that are engaged, committed and supporting each other. Interestingly, our research showed that lack of peer support is one of the key reasons people choose to leave organisations.
  • Leaders engendering trust by showing integrity, compassion and honesty on a predictable basis; giving their teams permission by modelling good wellbeing behaviours; and being responsive to the mental health and wellbeing needs of their team. Crucially, businesses need to support leaders’ confidence and capability in leading wellbeing, and support them looking after their own wellbeing.
  • Fostering an organisational environment that makes all of this possible – where evidence-based wellbeing programmes are valued and part of the business strategy and where leaders, teams and individuals are given the resources they need to prioritise wellbeing. To create safe and healthy organisations, you need to focus on both people and processes to build a culture of wellbeing.


This is a very important part of any wellbeing strategy, to ensure that our people remain at the core of what we’re doing. It’s also a question that requires extensive conversation and collaboration to figure out what the best approach is for your organisation, your people and your strategy. 

However, here are a few of our tips for starting your thinking:

  • Have clear and safe ways to give feedback within an organisation – do your people know the channels they have available to them? Do they know when and how they are going to be consulted? Are they informed on what this consultation is going to achieve, and given proof of this after it has been acted on? 
  • Further to the bullet point above, trust is a really important foundation of building psychological safety in teams – that is the safety to have my voice heard and respected in a conversation. Be aware as a leader how you ask questions, listen and reflect back to make sure you’ve understood, and be open to the differences of opinion. Be clear on why the conversation is happening and why you’re interested (e.g. is it so we can create a better solution for our customers? Or is it to understand a situation?). Respect people’s feedback and their privacy in sharing it with you. How you communicate and respond will make the biggest difference in creating the environment and team dynamic you want.
  • As a leader, there can be times during a consultation where you may sometimes feel like your people are “moaning”. Be aware that “moaning sessions” or “water-cooler conversations” (pre-COVID) tend to come from something deeper – a frustration, anger, sense of unfairness … that is, an emotion that is finding a way to be expressed. For our Acting CEO Tamara Mapp-Borren, her personal approach has been to lean into this when she’s heard about it and not to shut the conversation down but to be curious about why it’s started. What is the root cause that is leading to this behaviour with a team of people? And then address that root cause. 

Getting information out across dispersed teams is a challenge across many organisations, whether it’s talking about a new process change, tech solution or wellbeing. Here are some things to think about with how you communicate with teams:

  • What is the message you want to get to teams, and why is it important to them? (i.e. what’s in it for them?).
  • If you are asking others to deliver the content, what is your expectation of them – what action do we want them to take? Is there the opportunity for them to do this in a way that works for their particular team? (i.e. alignment on the message but autonomy to deliver it in a style and format that best suits their team).
  • How do we know that the information is getting out to people and being heard, what information are we giving managers that progress is being made? For example, if we wanted a team to use a new app as part of their work, what are the download rates? Or if we wanted people to use the wellbeing resources on an intranet within an organisation, are the resource usage stats increasing during the period you’re communicating with teams? 
  • There is research to suggest that messages need to be repeated seven times so, if it’s important, what are the ways and times that the message is repeated?
  • People receive information in different ways – for some, an email will work, others need verbal communication, or maybe a text message, or a poster or visual around an office or screensaver. Think about your channels to reach the teams you’re wanting to reach.

More articles about leading dispersed teams:

This is an important question and one that is difficult to answer briefly. In fact, Umbrella runs a 90-minute overview session for leaders on “Leading wellbeing during uncertain times” simply because there is so much that is important for leaders to know. For now, here are two top tips to start your thinking: 

  • Give the team a clear reason “why” for the change, and then a roadmap of how this change is going to play out (with clarity on how they can give input into this as the roadmap progresses). Change is particularly distressing when it happens to you, you’re not sure why and you have lost your feeling of control. Being aware of this as you design your change, naming it and talking to the people, not just the process, is key to supporting a team. Admittedly, this is difficult when change is unexpected (e.g. COVID-19 lockdowns); however, the guidance remains the same. Make sure the team know what values are driving your decisions (your “why”; e.g. keeping the team safe) and provide transparency in your decision-making. Regular communication and consultation are key to returning a sense of control back to your people.
  • Give people a “continuum” to talk to which helps to open up the conversation about how the change is going. Rather than someone saying, “How are you?” and getting the automatic response, “I’m OK”, have a continuum that gives you the option along a line from “not doing so well” through to “doing really well”, knowing that we can move up and down this continuum as the change progresses, and each day we might feel differently. Some organisations use a traffic light approach, some a 1-5 scale, and some a continuum. Whichever option you choose, it’s about creating a common language to share how you’re feeling for an individual to reflect and for a leader to listen to, so you can both engage and keep the energy moving in a positive direction. For tips on how to do this in dispersed teams, read our latest article here. 

This is a difficult time for any business and one that has, unfortunately, become more common in 2020. This conversation will differ from person to person, whether they are on a fixed-term or permanent contract. However, in both cases, it is important to acknowledge and name the uncertainty and the emotions that come with it. 

Have the conversation with individual team members about what these changes mean to them and their individual situations, and validate their responses. Then, work with them on ways that the organisation is able to support, for example:

  • Can we support them to prepare for finding their next role? For example, providing references, using your networks, supporting with career advice, interview practice, or introducing them to recruitment agencies.
  • Can we support them by giving them the time and space to find that next role? Is it possible to have flexible time at work to prepare for this?
  • For a project team with a fixed-term that’s coming to an end of the project, are there areas of concern coming up across the team they’d like support with? If yes, try working together as a team on an area that everyone is worried about, so there’s a shared experience in the room and it’s less isolating.
  • Be compassionate in your response. Even when we know roles are coming to an end, there can be normal responses around fear, anxiety, self-worth, confidence to find the next role, etc. Use an EAP service to support team members with this and remind people about how normal it is to need support during change and uncertainty.

Key to this conversation is being genuine and authentic, and leading with your organisation’s cultural values around wellbeing, even as someone is leaving your team.

Because this is such an important question, and one that so many leaders struggle with, we’ve put together a full article with our recommendations HERE. For the top-line summary you can read below.

There will be times when people seem to be struggling yet won’t accept any help you offer. Core to psychological safety is that whatever someone’s response is, that’s OK. Not everyone will want to discuss wellbeing in their workplace. There are many reasons for this response, including:

  • For some people, work is a place where they get space away from things happening for them personally. 
  • You may have surprised the person. It is possible that the person was not aware they were showing signs of distress and therefore your enquiry might come as a shock. So their instant reaction may be to shut down. 
  • Accepting that one is having a hard time can be scary and difficult, so it makes sense that people might take time to accept that they need assistance.
  • You might not be the right person to have this type of conversation with this individual.

So what can you do in these circumstances:

  1. Stay calm and do not take the response personally. As we have discussed, there are many reasons the person may not want to talk. Importantly, leave the door open for another time, e.g. “I understand you don’t want to talk now, but I’d like to check in briefly with you again in a few days”. 
  2. In addition to the above, always let the person know you do care and that you’re available if they change their mind.
  3. Ask the person if there is anything you can do to help that does not involve talking right now, e.g. more regular breaks, flexible working times, different types of work tasks.
  4. Do not avoid the person if they turn down your offer to talk. Keep in normal contact, so if they are ready to talk, they feel you’re still available.
  5. There may be someone else who is better placed to talk with this person. Share your concern with that individual and ask them if they can connect with the person.
  6. Get support yourself. If you are worried about someone and they are not engaging, talk to someone about how you feel. These types of situations can be hard on everyone.

To make these conversations easier in the future, make it part of your leadership style to check in with your team members on a regular basis. Be interested in their life outside work, their goals and the things that are important to them. This means any wellbeing discussion will more likely be viewed as business as usual and thus a lot more comfortable for everyone. To continue reading our other recommendations, CLICK HERE.

If you’re keen to continue the conversation with us and find out more on how to lead wellbeing in your workplace, you can always contact us or subscribe to receive our monthly newsletter – jam packed with new insights – in your inbox here. To discuss our complete wellbeing partnership offering, chat with our strategic team.