Case Study

steve killeen

Mental health and wellbeing – the opportunity

Steve Killeen, CEO, Downer NZ

The opportunity

A few years ago, I became concerned about how things that were happening in society, in the construction industry, and in our business might be affecting the mental health and wellbeing of our workforce. 

The law requires employers to protect workers from physical and mental harm, and meeting that responsibility is important. But my interest in wellbeing goes further than that. As a CEO, I'm interested in realising the full potential of the people who work for me. Imagine what type of business you would have if you got the best out of everyone. So at Downer we have chosen to approach mental health and wellbeing as an opportunity as well as an obligation.

What we're doing

Our approach also aligns with the Forum's model for CEO leadership of wellbeing at work, which says organisations need to focus on four areas – 'protecting', 'fostering', 'supporting' and 'reclaiming'.

Our wellbeing programme includes a broad range of initiatives designed to meet a variety of needs. These include literacy and numeracy training, engagement surveys, EAP, assistance for employees experiencing domestic violence, mental health first-aid training, wellbeing champions and mentoring.

I am aware of the need to protect my people from mental harm, and there have been occasions where we've walked away from contracts and customers in order to do that. That has obvious implications for our business. But as the leader of this company, I believe it's vital that we do it.

What's been the outcome?

For me, the 'return on investment' from this work has been enormous.

I've seen people who've come off benefits now leading significant operations. I've seen people who've come through our Māori leadership programme becoming great leaders at work and in their community. I've seen a new batch of young professionals develop the humility and passion to change our industry and make it better.

Useful links



What I've learnt

We’ve still got a long way to go on our wellbeing journey. But here are my three key pieces of advice to other CEOs:

  • Take the team with you. When you are dealing with 'human-centred' initiatives it's important that they are understood and are viewed as meaningful, not tick-box exercises.
  • Make time for conversations. We all have busy lives and important things to do. But for a CEO, conversations are the thing that keeps everything glued together.
  • Enjoy the journey. Take part in your organisation's wellbeing activities. For CEOs, visible leadership is a must, so you need to be accessible and present at the finish line with your people.