‘It’s OK to say you’re having a tough day’ – Sir John Kirwan’s advice to business leaders

Video transcript for Groov

Man with glasses and grey hair speaking on camera in front of window over-looking Wellington harbour

Sir John Kirwan, co-founder of Groov

What I want to talk to people about today is what I call looking after yourself, or just preventative mental health. Right?

So what are you doing on a daily basis to look after the old head?

You know, you get more inputs in one day today than your grandparents had in a lifetime.

So, we actually have to take a bit more control in how you do that.

You need to lead by example.

So, you need to be looking after your own mental health first.

So, I'll tell them a few tips and tricks on how to do that, and then I think you're going to hear a lot about psychological safety and psychosocial safety.

What is that? That's just trust and care.

So how you build that bridge in your workplace, and how you actually start opening up this conversation a little bit more, so that we stop pushing people off the cliff.


Man in maroon jacket speaking on camera in a room set up for a conference

James Whitaker, ACC Injury Prevention Leader

ACC is investing in Groov because we want New Zealand to be a place where everybody is looking after their mental well-being and where employers and employees are both thriving.

If somebody isn't feeling great and they're not keeping on top of their mental health, they're more likely to get injured, and it's going to take longer to recover from any injuries they do have.

Large man with glasses and grey hair speaking on camera in front of window over-looking Wellington harbour

Sir John Kirwan

I think we're mutually agree that it's a massive issue moving forward as far as ACC's concerned.

You know, the mental health issues, the mental anguish that's out there has started to become a massive problem and we believe that collectively we can help change those stats.

Former All Black and mental health advocate Sir John Kirwan shares his advice to business leaders as more Kiwis report struggling with their emotional wellbeing.

“It’s OK to turn up to work feeling down, and it’s OK to tap someone on the shoulder and say you’re having a tough day.”

That’s the message from former All Black and mental health advocate Sir John Kirwan as more Kiwis report struggling with their emotional wellbeing.

Figures from the Ministry of Health’s latest New Zealand Health Survey showed the proportion of adults (people aged 15 and over) experiencing high or very high levels of psychological distress more than doubled in the past decade (from less than 5% in 2011/12 to more than 11% in 2021/22).

The same survey showed almost 20% of adults had suffered from depression at some stage in their life, up from 14% in 2011-12.

This was most prevalent among women aged 45-54 (29%) and women aged 35-44 (26%). 

Almost 9% of adults reported an unmet need for professional help for their mental health in 2021/22, up from 4.9% in 2016/17.

Depressed man sitting with his head in his hands.

Kirwan co-founded the workplace wellbeing platform Mentemia in 2018, renamed Groov in March last year.

The 63-test All Black and former Warriors rugby league representative, who was knighted for his contributions to rugby and mental health in 2012, was in Wellington on May 15 to speak at the Business Central Health and Safety Roadshow, sponsored by ACC.

The two-hour presentation aims to give businesses and employers the tools to manage risk in the workplace.

It focused on things like the most common health and safety risks at work; psychological risk assessment; and creating inclusive and supportive teams.

ZX Security, wellbeing and resilience training company Umbrella, Habit Health, and Victim Support also spoke at the session.

After three years of negotiating the effects of a global pandemic, many Kiwis have been rocked recently by flooding and weather events in the North Island.

Rising inflation and interest rates are also having an impact on many Kiwis.

“It can be pretty relentless at the moment,” Kirwan says.

“Having lived through a pandemic, we’re now being challenged with weather and economic events.

“It just feels like it keeps coming and we remain in that high-alert state of ‘what’s next’?”

Kirwan says while we cannot control these events, there are skills and coping strategies that business leaders can learn and share with employees to help them cope.

It’s normal to feel a range of emotions in a crisis.
- Sir John Kirwan

Benefits of supporting mental health

“One of the most helpful things you can do is acknowledge your emotions. State them out loud, share with a friend, write them down – allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling.”

ACC invested in Groov through its $50 million Health, Safety, and Wellbeing Impact Fund in 2021.

It owns about 12% of the company, making it the third-largest shareholder behind the founders – Kirwan and tech entrepreneur Adam Clark.

ACC injury prevention leader James Whitaker says mental health is the primary cause of lost working days and lost productivity in most Westernised countries.

He says supporting mental health has benefits for both businesses and workers.

“In the 2021-22 financial year, ACC paid almost $8m for active work-related mental injury costs, and more than $404m for mental injuries caused by physical injuries.

“Studies show mental health accounts for a loss of 5% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in OECD countries and is a significant cause of suicide and disability worldwide.

“Mental health conditions, particularly depression, are a significant risk factor for higher rates of injury, slower rates of recovery, and increased ACC claims costs.”

Kirwan believes there is a lot of anxiety “sitting under the surface” in New Zealand and the psychological impact of that will be significant.

“Simple things like shifting your one-on-ones to become two-thirds personal, to really connect and support people, is a great step business leaders and managers can take,” he says,

“Do not underestimate the impact this can make to team members."

“There are no ‘staff members’ or ‘bosses’ - we're all humans.”

Health and Safety Roadshow schedule:

May 15 – Wellington

May 16 – Palmerston North

May 17 – New Plymouth

May 18 – Whanganui

May 22 – Lower Hutt

May 23 – Carterton

May 24 – Nelson

May 30 – Napier

May 31 – Gisborne

Groov’s strategies for when you’re feeling stressed or anxious

  • Focus on the things you can control and let go of the things you can’t
  • Give yourself grace – acknowledge that sometimes really terrible things happen and it’s not your fault or something that you did
  • Take slow, deep breaths to help stand down the amygdala (the ‘lookout’ part of the brain that triggers fight or flight)
  • Rest and take breaks as often as you can – to sleep, eat, breathe and just be
  • Notice small, good things in the world around you to remind your brain that good things still happen

For more information

Groov is a leading workplace wellbeing platform co-founded by long time mental health advocate Sir John Kirwan and serial tech entrepreneur Adam Clark.

Find out more about Groov at their website. 

Groov Now