By Gary Sullivan OBE, Chairman
There has been a concerted effort by Government, the NHS, charities and the media to promote healthy lifestyles. These have historically been about physical activity and healthy eating. Thankfully awareness of our mental well-being is starting to share the spotlight.
The catch-all phrase for mental health issues in the work place is usually ‘stress’. There are of course many forms of mental health and many causes, some of which will undoubtedly, will be job related. We tend to think that stress at work is about the folk in senior roles with targets to reach; teams to manage and the many responsibilities that leadership brings. However, employers need to be aware that ‘stress’ can affect employees, whatever their role. 13.3 million working days are lost each year to stress related illness, 70 million lost days if you include all mental health illnesses.
There are two job types I should like to champion; both operate in the same space, but each have a different role and are affected by each other, they are the traffic marshals and delivery drivers working within Construction in London.
Try to imagine if you can, having driven several hours on our motorway network, where cars and trucks vie for space at speed. Then as you enter London, your average speed drops to walking pace and pedestrians and cyclists join the melee on London’s road network. You have planned your route; you have an agreed arrival time, worked out your travel time and of course planned your mandatory breaks.
The Traffic Marshal
Imagine you are a construction site traffic marshal, dressed head to toe in ‘Hi-Viz’ with a schedule that shows a vehicle arriving every 30 minutes. You are on a busy road with the noise and pollution of London’s traffic. It may be full sun, it may be pouring with rain, you have no shelter and pedestrians and cyclists are surrounding you, fighting their own traffic battles. You have your training and your personality to see you through the day. However, with no authority in law, you must marshal determined truck drivers and hordes of pedestrians. You are there for their safety, to ensure that everyone gets to share the limited space, as delivery vehicles cross the threshold between highway and site, often known as the ‘footpath’.
The Delivery Driver
The foreman wants his materials on site – his concrete needs to pour to keep the build on track. The office worker is rushing from the tube to the office via your route in to the construction site. You’re forced to make unplanned manoeuvres to avoid collisions with cyclists racing through your blind spots, leaving your nerves on edge. Roadworks have meant you’re journey to the site has been lengthened by diversions. Lost minicab drivers suddenly slowing down and pedestrians crossing roads in front of you distracted by phones, with the expectation that their safety is purely your responsibility, leave you at risk of prosecution unless you perform countless emergency stops and swerves throughout your working day.
At The Site
Then the two get to meet, the truck arrives late, the site is full and the traffic is hellish. The driver leans out of his window and shouts at the traffic marshal;
“I am delivering to the block-work contractor”.
“Sorry” he yells back. “You were booked in an hour ago; you’ve missed your slot”.
A stand off and shouting match ensues. No targets to reach, no profit to make, no management team to present to, but a whole lot of stress.
It has to be said, many thrive and enjoy working in a dynamic environment and will cope with almost anything you throw at them, but we need to be alert to the hidden risks to mental health problems that the work place can create.
Employers have made great strides in improving the physical well-being of workers and yet mental health issues do not yet receive the same attention. Of course that is understandable, there is still much to learn about how work affects our emotional state.
What can be done?
A good starting place is for business leaders to make an effort to learn more about mental illness and then make themselves visible on the subject. Policy is fine, but leaders need to embrace the issues, speak up and ensure taboos are dispelled. Leaders need to advocate, educate and demonstrate to their colleagues that they are serious about supporting those affected.
Boards need to ensure money is available to provide practical measures such as counselling. They need to ensure those charged with carrying out risk assessments have the right skills and of course do all that can be done to ensure that stress mitigation for all, is standard practice.
Some may be lucky to have escaped mental health issues however, it is probably a safe bet that we all know someone who has suffered, even if not diagnosed.
Mind, the mental health charity, has created a workplace well-being index. We at Wilson James have signed up and are taking our first steps to a better understanding of mental health and protecting its wellbeing among our employees. Why not find out what kind of business you are and sign up in 2017.