Big strides in mental and physical wellbeing at North East Water

Thursday 21 March, 2024

North East Water has made significant improvements to the health, safety, and wellbeing of 200 staff across 43 sites with the Achievement Program.


North East Water, a sewage and water service provider to 115,000 people in North East Victoria, needed a way to be more proactive with staff wellbeing, health and safety.


With 200 staff, 43 water and wastewater treatment plants, and an area stretching 20,00 square kilometres from Yarrawonga to Benalla and Harrietville; the Achievement Program provided a comprehensive and evidence-based framework to review their health and wellbeing practices.


Ben Hawkins, North East Water Health and Wellbeing Coordinator, explained they have experienced positive change for employee physical and mental health since joining in September 2022 and have now completed all five health priority areas of the Achievement Program.


“Through the course of the Achievement Program, we’ve seen massive positive growth in physical and mental wellbeing,” Mr Hawkins said.


He explained highlighting and enabling wellbeing activities not only creates a great experience for current staff, but also promotes North East Water as an employer of choice.


For example, employee support officers (ESOs) in all work groups receive specialised training in mental health first aid, employee support, and drug and alcohol training; they are then able to use this training to support their workmates with mental wellbeing or drug and alcohol issues.


Resource packs, with local drug and alcohol counselling provider information, are in development and will be available upon request; a drug and alcohol information session for all staff is also planned for the coming year.


North East Water also promotes their existing employee assistance program (EAP) alongside local resources and literature for all staff to access.


“We’ve now got a more engaged health, safety, and wellbeing culture. Our staff are also a lot more proactive in addressing workplace issues and bringing up changes and ideas they want to see at work,” Mr Hawkins said.


To support healthy eating, their social club kiosk menu now offers new healthier options including muesli and yogurt cups, rice cakes, and no-sugar mineral waters. Staff are now requesting healthier options at work events, which North East Water plans to act upon and source from local suppliers.


Staff are alerted to local health events and workplace activities in regular emails, such as friendly table tennis competitions and health testing initiatives.


They also make use of bike racks and change rooms at most work sites to encourage active commutes by bike and on foot.


While at work, sun protective hats and shirts are available to all staff alongside sunscreen in all bathrooms and changerooms to encourage regular use and sun protection.


They have also moved smoking areas away from designated work areas, updated signage, and now provide smoking and vaping cessation resources as part of their updated policy.


Mr Hawkins said while starting the Achievement Program is a big step, positive benefits and progress quickly accumulate.


“Once you get started, lots of small changes add up really quickly and before you know it, you’ve made some really great leaps in establishing a healthier workplace culture,” he said.


North East Water has already seen more and more staff bringing in healthier meals, using mental health support systems, choosing active travel options, and quitting smoking.


Mr Hawkins encourages any workplace considering making a health or wellbeing change to choose the Achievement Program.


“All you have to do is just make a start.”