How are you, really? Discussing mental health in the workplace

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and today is World Mental Health Day.  This year’s theme is Mental health in the workplace and as the Head of People and Capability at AA Insurance, it’s a very important matter to me.

And it got me thinking.  I’ve been around a wee while and over the years I’ve seen an increase in mental health issues, both at work and amongst family and friends.  It might be because of better awareness, but life is getting tougher for a variety of reasons and I think this contributes to the pressure we all feel at times. 

We’re meant to be amazing and perfect and, of course, each of us is in our own way, but there is pressure all around us; you should be able to juggle working and children, you need to lose weight, and you should be able to cope with whatever life throws at you. Then there are the endless social media images and stories of how perfect everyone’s life is, creating a fairy tale image that you’re not part of.

The saddest part about struggling, whether temporarily or longer term, is the stigma attached to this.  I mean, the ‘disorder’ label is negative -- bipolar disorder, depressive disorder and the like. No negative connotation there - yeah right!  The World Health Organization suggests there are 300 million people worldwide with depression, 260 million with anxiety disorders, and many living with both. While the human cost is often uncalculatable, the global economic cost is said to be US$1 trillion each year in lost productivity.

Sometimes we need these statistics to put mental health into perspective. It affects so many of us, at different times of our lives, and shouldn’t be shunned or negatively labelled.

We all need help at times - reaching out to talk to your partner or good friend, having them listen at a point when you might be struggling. 

So, what am I saying?  I’m saying it’s alright to ask for help, and it should be alright to ask for help from your employer. As adults, we spend a large proportion of our time at work, and our experiences there can often influence our overall mental, as well as physical, wellbeing.

At AA Insurance, we look after the holistic wellbeing of our people, going beyond the beneficial services of EAP.  We continue to invest in a dedicated wellbeing programme that cares for five pillars of wellbeing: mental, physical, financial, life-balance and inclusiveness. This includes the provision of a range of internally and externally provided programmes such as mental resilience, sleep optimisation, weight loss, and budgeting.

It’s also included in the way the company is run and how we behave towards each other – everyone is respected, valued and feels a sense of belonging, we get involved with our community, and almost half of our workforce works flexibly to create a sense of work-life balance. We keep considering the needs of our people to enable them to cope with life now, and to also help them think about their future.

We tell our people that if they’re feeling overwhelmed it’s alright to talk to their team leader or manager, because we train them to better manage and help their teams.  Often, it’s a case of needing to take a day away from work, to focus on themselves and their wellbeing. It isn’t about taking a carte blanche approach to sick leave but sometimes it can be a greater longer term investment in a person’s wellbeing to pause and reset (if possible) than battle on before it all becomes too much to cope with. 

Little things can make a difference to how we feel, and I’m celebrating Mental Health Day in the hope that at least one person may have the courage to seek help if they need it, rather than battle on in silence.

For more information visit:

Nikki Howell

GM People & Capability, AA Insurance

About AA Insurance

AA Insurance is an independently operated, New Zealand-based joint venture between the New Zealand Automobile Association (NZAA) and Vero Insurance New Zealand Limited (VINZL). Since 1994 we have demonstrated trusted expertise in home, contents and car insurance in New Zealand, and in 2018 introduced commercial small business insurance. We underwrite our own policies and sell direct to New Zealanders. Our 930+ staff look after over 480,000 customers with 970,000 policies.

We proudly partner with Variety NZ and Eden Park and have been consistently recognised by: Reader’s Digest Most Trusted Brands (since 2011) and Quality Service Awards for Car, and Home and Contents Insurance (since 2015), Kantar Customer Leadership Index (since 2019), Canstar Blue Most Satisfied Customers (2011-2018), and the Colmar Brunton Corporate Reputation Index (since 2015) that recognises New Zealand’s most successful companies. AA Insurance was also named Consumer NZ People’s Choice award winner for car, home and contents (2019 and 2020).

AA Insurance has an AA- (Very Strong) Insurer Financial Strength Rating given by Standard and Poor’s (Australia) Pty Ltd. For further information visit

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