Time to take a stand and say – United, we care

Following United Capital director Ryan Russell’s call for more awareness and understanding within the building services industry regarding mental health problems and suicide, contractor McGill continues its parent company’s United We Care campaign.

The building services industry is evolving in a lot of ways – from traditional materials and methods to more sustainable and renewable technologies, for example. Yet in other ways we have a lot of catching up to do, and organisational culture remains one of the last great unsolved challenges.

Many of today’s building services leaders served their time in the 70s and 80s and let’s be honest, this was not the most enlightened period in the history of male communication. I know first hand, as an apprentice QS witnessing a Clerk of Works, asking me to leave the site cabin whilst he had a “quiet” word with a site agent he had a disagreement with! These days are gladly gone and while much of the daily banter can’t be repeated in polite company the overall culture was non-stop hilarious banter mixed with a side of macho bravado.

How much have things really changed on the job since those days? Not as much as it could have or should have– and that’s becoming a problem. Apart from the fact that recruiting young people – especially women and girls – into the industry is getting ever more difficult, the group that’s being most affected is men themselves.

The mental health crisis in our industry is terrifying, and the statistics give a frightening snapshot of what those in your teams will be dealing with on any given day. As many as one in three workers experience ‘heightened’ levels of anxiety every day. Two construction workers die by suicide every day in the UK. We work in a pretty tough industry; work can be seasonal and unpredictable, finances difficult to depend on, injury is a constant possibility, the work is physically demanding, long hours are standard. And that’s before we even mention the pandemic that has made everything much more difficult.

Here’s the thing: we’re all in this together. We share the experience of working in this sector, and we don’t necessarily show our colleagues and employees the understanding that should spring from that shared experience. Too often there’s a ‘well that’s how it was in my day, so why should today’s youngsters have it easier’ attitude. The lad-style banter continues, tempers are allowed to fray in what should be a professional workplace, and so the culture is allowed to develop unchecked.

It has to stop. Lives are on the line. That’s why the United Capital group companies are beginning a campaign called United We Care. We want to open up conversations about mental health at work, for our leaders to open their doors to anyone who has a need to talk, and to begin to tackle some of those worrying statistics mentioned above.

To get started we’ve put in place an employee assistance programme which offers counselling, mental health and anxiety support, financial advice, and more, all of which is available 24/7. That’s just the start though. We’re pulling together a package of measures which we hope will begin to turn the tide of the macho show-no-weakness culture which has dominated our industry for so long, and done so much to damage both livelihoods and lives. As we move forward McGill’s leaders will be role models for the change we need to see across the industry, and will be a safe employer for anyone.

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