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November 15, 2016

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We’re in construction, right? So let’s build bridges between tribes

network-1020332_960_720Throughout November SHP is looking at some of the innovative work going on in UK construction. Here Kate Morris, looks at how much further we can all go, if we work together.

Let’s face it: health is harder to manage than safety.

Psychosocial and physical factors, underestimation of risk and short-term horizons all make health extremely difficult to manage, particularly on large-scale construction projects, rich in obvious quick-wins for safety.

Yet I’m glad the construction industry is taking a lead on health and well-being. As someone who worked in the sector for the best part of a decade, I take great pride in the success of high-profile projects like Crossrail and the London Olympics. We’ve come a long way, but there is still much work to be done.

As you might have heard, the Health in Construction Leadership Group (HCLG) launched earlier this year. It’s supported by over 150 leaders and influencers in construction, all of whom pledge to to eradicate ill-health and disease caused by work-related activities, and this includes mental ill-health. Estimates put the number of deaths from suicide in the construction industry 10 times higher than those from fatal accidents at work.

It’s a huge step towards redressing the balance, and never a truer word was spoken than those at its inaugural event: “the construction industry shouts about safety but whispers about health.”

One of its first initiatives, ‘Mates in Mind’, launched on World Suicide Day in September 2016. And it aims to raise awareness by encouraging conversations about mental health in the macho world of construction.

It’s an admirable and ambitious campaign, yet for those of us working in our industry there are bridges we can build, right now, to make this shift in attitude extend even further.

Let’s build bridges

Research shows that health and well-being is high on the agenda for HR teams and health and safety teams respectively. But I’ve noticed that’s where the harmony ends.

As an HR manager and director for many years before I joined Tribe Culture Change, I saw unsettling distinctions between the objectives of HR and H&S teams. Traditionally, HR focuses on areas like employee engagement, learning, and succession planning. What troubles me is that these are treated as distinct, separately even, from the safety concerns of the H&S team.

How often do your H&S and HR teams get together to talk about the health and well-being of staff in your business? If you do, well done, but you’re definitely in the minority.

You see similar dissociation with wellness programmes, which focus solely on fitness, nutrition and mental well-being. In construction, these areas must be dovetailed with management of risks like musculoskeletal injury, respiratory disease and harm caused by hand/arm vibration.

When it comes to health and well-being, whether in the construction industry or elsewhere, as I see it there is no clear water between health and safety and HR. It’s the same between other ‘siloed’ areas of business too.

At the end of the day, we all want to prevent harm.

In fact with well-being we ought to go beyond that, and create workplaces where people make a positive impact. So when you think about it, departmental responsibilities are irrelevant. Because people are people.

We believe we can all go further

Imagine a world where we enhance people’s well-being, and create working cultures where they’re at their best, in environments that support their personal development and keep them productive.

We’re already on a crusade to create just that.

By assessing attitudes, values and beliefs, we help organisations create the right cultural conditions for behaviour change. From there we develop employee engagement tools and workshops that not only appeal to the rational part of the brain, but to the emotional part too.

That’s particularly crucial when the consequences of ill-health aren’t as immediate as with safety.

Underpinning our vision are what we call ‘sticky messages’ – memorable concepts designed to nudge specific behaviour. We believe health, safety, well-being, quality and efficiency are, in fact, all part of the same thing. All are essential ingredients for sustainable business.

This new joined-up approach can (and does) work

Allow me to share two examples.

One of our clients is a leading supplier of materials to the construction industry. And at the heart of their programme is a simple, sticky message about ‘stepping up and staying safe’. Even the language it uses, on a proactive theme of ‘sussing out’ hazards, is designed to engage with the same macho attitudes that HCLG are targeting with their Mates in Mind campaign.

One reason why our client’s message sticks is because of how they deploy it. With immersive 360º photography similar to Google StreetView, they superimpose learning points and training videos over real hazards in the workplace. These panoramas put people right in the middle of the workplace. What that says to staff is ‘we’re tackling familiar issues head-on, right where you work, right alongside you’ – in a way that PowerPoint never could.

When sticky messages like these are repeated, more visibly, in a real-world context, they help people imagine and understand the long-term consequences of putting their health at risk – arguably our biggest cultural obstacle in gaining parity with safety. This is why innovative technology is our ally when it comes to ‘amplifying the stickiness’ of messages about health.

Put simply, doing things differently, backed up with a loud, clear message gets people talking – another example might help.

Although not in construction, a different client of ours manufacture some of the world’s best-known food and drinks brands. And they’re living proof you can transcend tribal boundaries with the right combination of vision and innovation. In this case between operational management, HR, environmental, H&S and quality.

In partnership, we developed a radical social media campaign on a theme of positive pledges which got staff posting selfies and videos about how they’d take responsibility for their actions. The campaign went viral, it united managers and staff alike on the front-line, and exceeded all expectations. In fact the data revealed trends, hot topics and ideas that’ll keep our client’s programme fresh and impactful well into the future.

There’s appetite for change

It’s all very well showcasing great work, but we know you’ve got to practice what you preach.

So with this joined-up approach in mind, we’re going establish a cross-industry think tank. It’ll involve global leaders from H&S, HR and occupational health who’ll champion a more collaborative approach to culture change and engagement in construction and beyond.

The clue’s in our name. We want to unite stakeholders from different tribes in different industries, under a common issue; that for too long health and well-being have been overshadowed by safety. And the think tank will generate evidence-based solutions that put them on a level playing field.

The timing feels right too. My colleague, Dr Jenny Lunt and MD of Tribe, Mark Ormond, presented at a recent British Safety Council conference, exploring why health is harder to manage than safety. The event was well-attended with people from every industry and management discipline, proving health and well-being is high on the agenda of forward-thinking organisations.

When we all unite under a common goal like this, with innovation behind us and a vision of success to spur us on, there’s little we can’t achieve. Not just in construction, but whatever sector you’re in.

If you’re interested in our think tank, join the conversation @TribeCC on Twitter or get culture change insight delivered straight to your inbox.

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Duncan Brown
Duncan Brown
7 years ago

What an interesting piece, for those who haven’t seen it here’s the latest video from The Health in Construction Leadership Group
The 360 technique is a good approach & it’s now possible to interact with moving people & objects in a video & your interactions to be recorded creating a score if you want

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