Lead the conversation

A few weeks ago the British Safety Council, together with the Health in Construction Leadership Group, launched Mates in Mind, a revolutionary new turnkey approach to promoting mental wellbeing at work.

It will be deployed initially in the construction sector where the statistics are shocking. One in six working-age people is suffering from stress, anxiety or depression, amounting to over 350,000 people at any one time, and suicide is estimated to be killing 10 times more construction workers than falls from height.

As we have started to develop this exciting new initiative, I have been hugely impressed by the level of interaction and leadership shown by the large construction companies.

At the launch event, high profile senior leaders came together and talked openly about mental health and wellbeing. Some bravely shared their own experiences, demonstrating that mental illness can affect anyone. There is a real commitment to reducing stigma and supporting those affected.

This is extremely positive, but as I looked around the room, it struck me that this level of proactive leadership is still the exception rather than the rule in the field of health and safety. 

Traditionally health and safety management has been driven by legislation. This has achieved a significant improvement in performance. However, rules will only ever lead to compliance and if we want to go beyond compliance, then a different approach is required. The challenge is to create an environment where people are enabled and supported to identify opportunities for improvement and act on them before a problem occurs. You have to inspire people to get involved.

So how do you inspire people? Well, that’s where leadership comes in. If you think about historical leaders, there is no doubt that they are inspirational, not just about what they say, but is what they do that makes a real difference. Human beings are tuned to model behaviours, so to deliver a step change in health and safety we need more inspirational leaders, and I believe that we have them.

We all believe that everyone has a right to go home fit and well every day.  To make a real difference we need to demonstrate it in our everyday actions, showing commitment to looking after the people that we work with.

Over the last 40 years we have seen a step change in safety performance.  There have been improvements in workplace health as well, but the issue of mental health remains a real challenge. To make a difference we need more inspirational leadership.

A huge number of factors can impact on our mental wellbeing.  Physical illness or injury generally presents visible symptoms, which are obvious to those around us, presenting opportunities for help or support. But worries, stress and depression are not visually identifiable, and consequently people often suffer in silence, feeling isolated and alone. 

Conversation can break down these barriers, allow people to share their concerns and offer support to each other.

If we are to break down the stigma around mental health we need to inspire people to talk about how they feel and the things that are worrying or concerning them. We can all get involved in leading this change by asking open questions and taking the time to listen to others.

I challenge you to get involved in talking about mental health in your workplace and share your experiences with us.

More information at: www.matesinmind.org