Live well, build well

25 September 2023

5 minutes to read

Ambulance at the top of the cliff approach to mental fitness for tradies. A new wellbeing initiative for the residential  construction sector is helping builders and tradies cope better with the ups and downs of the industry.


Waihanga Ora, Live Well, Build Well shares practical tools and ideas that construction businesses can use to build resilience, reduce stress levels and help prevent common workplace injuries. 

The programme was set up at the end of last year with the backing of the Mental Health Foundation and ACC, and builds on the success of a similar initiative in the agriculture sector, Farmstrong. 

“Live Well, Build Well is about mental fitness, rather than illness and focuses on the things people can control to keep well and perform under pressure,” says programme manager Rafael Caso.

“The science of wellbeing tells us we’re all born with a certain amount of natural wellbeing, but as we go through life and get knock-backs, our wellbeing levels deplete so we need to top them up. The idea is to make small deposits on a regular basis rather than waiting until our wellbeing is so low that we’ve got a crisis on our hands.” 

“Live Well, Build Well is about mental fitness, rather than illness and focuses on the things people can control to keep well and perform under pressure.”


Grant Schofield, professor of public health at the Auckland University of Technology, has been contributing his expertise to the programme through a series of video clips focusing on what it takes to stay mentally fit. This can range from getting a decent night’s rest to cold water immersion therapy and the use of saunas to boost mood and build resilience. 

“Being mentally fit means you’ve got the tools to negotiate the good with the bad in life. In practice, it means keeping physically fit, eating as well as you can, getting a good night’s sleep and learning to regulate your thinking and emotions so you think more accurately and can manage negative thoughts,” says Grant, pictured below.

He says the programme reflects the latest research about mental health. “Mental fitness is a term I think you’re going to hear a lot more of. Mental fitness is about exposing yourself to ideas and tools that allow you to be the best that you can be and help you get the best out of life. Let’s face it, if you’re a living, functioning human being, you may as well have a good life – this is how you do it.”

Research shows that simple, daily habits such as staying in touch with mates, keeping the body moving, taking time to enjoy simple pleasures in life, learning new things to keep fresh and giving back to friends and community can all improve our wellbeing so we can perform at our best.
Thinking strategies that help people retain a sense of perspective, optimism and control when they are ‘under the pump’ at work are also part of the programme.

Programme manager Rafael, pictured below, centre, has been busy packaging the science of wellbeing into builder-friendly, accessible video clips using relatable, work-based examples. Many are filmed on site at the back of his trusty ute. Topics covered include managing everyday workplace pressures, healthy thinking strategies and mindsets, breathing techniques, sleep, nutrition, body conditioning, rest and recovery time. 

He says his previous role as a health and safety manager in the industry was a major motivation for his involvement. “My experience is that one of the biggest risks on site is people’s emotional state. When people are having a bad day, they shut down and almost go into a zombie state. They’re simply not living or building as they should be.

“That’s why I was keen to be involved in something proactive that passes on habits that make people more mentally and physically robust.”

Raf says the programme is relevant for anyone working in a busy, high-pressure work environment. The approach also acknowledges that many of the industry’s challenges - supply chain issues, adverse weather, labour shortages, regulations, and changing economic conditions – are beyond anyone’s control.

Storytelling has played a major role in the programme’s success to date. To reach as many tradies as possible, Raf has been making extensive use of social media. His video interviews with builders and tradies have already racked up thousands of views on Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn. Raf maintains strong industry connections, including more than 13,500 followers on his LinkedIn account.

“Our aim is to start conversations about health and wellbeing that might not otherwise happen. A lot of tradies I interview are quite reserved at first, but once you get them talking they have a lot of great insights about how you manage workplace pressure. That's the gold!"

Hamilton-based builder and developer Quintin Eruiti is one of a number of tradies sharing his insights via Live Well, Build Well. Last year was a tough one for him.

“Last year I really struggled trying to be both a builder and a developer at the same time. The frustration of wanting to deliver these homes and not being able to get the materials and the cost of everything really weighed on me.

“Towards the end of the year, I came to the realisation I couldn’t do both roles because things around me were suffering. My wife encouraged me to talk to someone, so I found a business coach and mentor.”

He soon realised, with so much to deal with at work, his own wellbeing had taken a hit. “I’d always been raised to work hard and help others, which was awesome, but I’d never learnt how to be of service to myself. 

“Over the past couple of months, I’ve made this a priority, which has really helped. I spend time with my coach each week and rather than focus on what hasn’t gone right, like the materials that didn’t turn up, we focus on what has gone right. When you’re only focusing every 
day on the things that haven’t gone right, it can really build up and bring you down. You miss out on the wins.” 

Live Well, Build Well Programme Manager Rafael Caso (centre) on site

Quintin has since made more time for things other than work, to achieve better work-life balance. “It’s just stuff that I enjoy. Whether that’s spending more time with my kids or being able to go to the gym or play golf with friends. I’ve realised I need to make my own wellbeing a priority.”

Hamilton-based Josh Harding is a residential building business owner. Missing out on a contract last year meant having to lay off much-valued staff and piled on the stress. “That really cut me up,” he says. 

“It was a hard time for me. When you’re a business owner, your staff become like your family and when I had to let people go I felt really sad for them. How I dealt with it was by talking to my wife and friends, spending time with my kids and doing stuff that I enjoyed, like going for a bike ride or a walk.

“It’s always best to talk about these issues with people so that people are aware that you’re actually suffering. No one will know that until you talk about it.”

Josh also discusses the importance of prioritising work-life balance. “As a business owner, especially in construction, most people get on site at 6.30 or 7am and work until 6pm and that time for your family disappears. So, at our business, we start at 8.30 and if we have to push on later, we will.

“But the important thing for me is to have time with my kids. Life isn’t just about money and work, it’s about family too and you have got to get the levels right. If you can achieve that you’re going to be happier and in a much more positive mindset at work."

Reflecting on progress to date, Raf says, “Traditional male attitudes about work and wellbeing have definitely contributed to workplace pressures in the past, but those attitudes are changing rapidly. These days, as you can see in our videos, men are much more open to discussing the pressures they face at work and our role is to facilitate and encourage those conversations.

“It’s important to stress that we’re not telling anyone how to live their lives. We’re just sharing what the science says keeps people well and what tradies are already doing to keep well. Our offering is a bit like a buffet; here’s a range of solutions that can work for people, dig in and help yourself.”

It aims to be the 'ambulance at the top of the cliff' and takes a strengths-based approach to increasing people’s wellbeing based on the latest wellbeing science.

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