Master Plumbers goes above and beyond with Wellbeing on Tap programme

Master Plumbers goes above and beyond with Wellbeing on Tap programme to secure Kalmar Mental Health and Wellbeing Award.

"It's ok to speak up. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. Everyone goes through stuff."

That's the message Master Plumbers, Gasfitters & Drainlayers NZ is sharing with its member businesses and its own people, says Human Resources Manager Lisa Duston.

She and the rest of the Master Plumbers team were awarded the Kalmar Mental Health and Wellbeing Award for their Wellbeing on Tap Programme at the 2023 Site Safe Health, Safety and Wellbeing awards.

The award was recognition for their outstanding approach in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of workers, colleagues, friends and whānau.

The judges said what really caught their eye was how Master Plumbers had expanded the programme to employ a Wellbeing Coach Kereama Carmody and set up a wellbeing hotline.

They said the Wellbeing on Tap programme showcased a business "going way beyond its legal duties", and they were particularly impressed with its growth since its launch. 

Initially established to support Masterlink apprentices, the programme has been expanded to assist Master Plumbers' member businesses and the internal teams at Master Plumbers and Masterlink.

"One apprentice summed it up for the judges by saying that talking with Kereama on the hotline has given him the confidence to speak up on his own mental health journey. What a wonderful initiative and a great model for other membership organisations," they said.

Deeply concerned by the fact that construction workers were two times more likely to die by suicide than the rest of the New Zealand workforce, Master Plumbers set out to provide support for those working in the plumbing, gasfitting and drainlaying sector.

It all began in 2019 when Lisa attended a wellbeing summit and heard from a speaker who discussed their wellbeing programme, and how they were spurred into action after an employee committed suicide.

"The speaker really inspired me to put more in place for our own people because we didn't want to lose someone on our watch. I came away from that thinking we needed to do more.”

As the HR Manager for Master Plumbers and Masterlink employees, including more than 300 Masterlink apprentices, Lisa is very aware that mental wellbeing issues can have a significant impact in the workplace.

"When we looked deeper into any HR issues we were handling, we often found there were wellbeing reasons behind them,” she says.

“For example, if someone wasn’t turning up to work, it wasn’t because they couldn’t be bothered. There was usually a whole lot of difficult stuff going on in their world. We had a duty and a desire to support our employees’ wellbeing alongside their health and safety.”

Lisa is no stranger to mental health issues herself. Living in Christchurch, she suffered from depression after the Canterbury earthquakes, and her son also lost a couple of his mates to suicide at high school.  

"These events, as well as being aware of what many of our apprentices were going through, made me realise something needed to be done to support positive mental health and wellbeing at work."

It took persistence to get buy-in at first, she says, but once Lisa had the backing of the Master Plumbers Board, the programme snowballed.

Wellbeing on Tap is focused on five pillars of wellbeing: Nourish, Sleep, Active, Mind and Connect.

It has a dedicated Wellbeing on Tap web page on both the Master Plumbers and Masterlink websites, where people can find useful guides and resources on topics such as how to start a conversation about mental health and how to identify if someone is struggling. 

To address the “take a concrete pill and harden up” mentality that persists in the construction industry, Master Plumbers created a series of videos with some ‘hardass’ tradies speaking out about the mental health issues they had faced in their own lives.

People watching those were saying, “Wow, we’ve seen these guys around and we’d never have thought anything was wrong. So, we need to keep telling people it's ok to speak up, it doesn’t mean you’re weak, everyone goes through stuff."

To help people open up and share their own mental health issues, registered social worker Kereama Carmody was employed as a Wellbeing Coach for the initiative.

He is at the end of the 0800 wellbeing helpline during business hours for anyone wanting to talk or get advice. And that really does mean anyone. Staff, member business owners, their employees and apprentices, Kereama is there to meet their needs.

He presents Wellbeing Toolbox Talk roadshows, speaks at the national conference and is available on request to visit individual member businesses and talk to their employees. He also posts videos on the Master Plumbers social media channels and writes a regular blog for their NZ Plumber magazine.

"If something is going round and round in your mind, just being able to offload to somebody else makes a huge difference—and that's what Kereama is here to do,” says Lisa.

She says the team were thrilled to be recognised for their efforts with the Site Safe award.

"We are super proud of what we have achieved so far, and to be recognised for that through this industry award was very humbling.”

The team aren't thinking of slowing down on progress for the programme any time soon.

They are currently in discussions with other construction organisations and MATES in Construction on how to continue growing the initiative and reaching as many vulnerable tradies as possible.

"It doesn’t just have to be for plumbers,” says Lisa. “This is an issue for the construction industry as a whole, so it would be great to be able to run more events, get more people involved and keep creating more resources."

The latest initiative has been for the Master Plumbers team to visit member businesses in areas affected by the destruction of Cyclone Gabrielle. The team, alongside MATES in Construction, will provide mental wellbeing support and financial assistance using funds raised through the Master Plumbers Givealittle Page.

"We've always wanted to show industry leadership,” says Lisa. “Our CEO Greg Wallace has us living and breathing that. It's not about being recognised for what we do. It’s because we care about our people and our businesses. We want them to succeed, and we'll do all we can to help them with that."

"It's ok to speak up. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. Everyone goes through stuff."

Human Resources Manager Lisa Duston