Opinion

Chris Blythe: Don’t ignore those struggling at the bottom

28 March 2019 | By Chris Blythe

The business stresses in some companies can be tough; construction professionals everywhere should look out for colleagues and co-workers who may be in a dark place, says Chris Blythe.

The endless reports of construction firms seeking administration just emphasise what a perilous business construction is. The adage that the way to make a small fortune in construction is to start with a big one seems true.

It seems tougher still when even the phoenixes that rise from the ashes of one firm soon crumble into their own pile of dust of dashed hope and broken promises putting others under threat. It is hard to imagine the massive stress a large part of the industry is under, living day to day, trying to get the most from every scrap of cash that is available, worrying whether there is enough to pay the wages at the end of the week.

“What will inspire people is the chance to work in a culture where everyone is appreciated for what they do; there is flexibility to have a life as well as a job whether you are a labourer or a director.”

I don’t believe those at the top of the supply chain understand the issues and if they did they probably don’t care. In a business which relies so much on collaboration and teamwork it is dog eat dog.

It is no wonder that mental health is a major issue in an industry where the default position has been to “man-up” and get on with it. While there is some good work going on with mental health first-aiders and Mates in Mind, many of these initiatives miss those most in need.

With an offsite suicide rate eight times the onsite accidental death rate, we are getting nowhere near solving the problem. I don’t think there are many people in the industry who have not experienced the loss of someone in this way.

To be able to get the best and the brightest to come and work in our industry, we need to be able to offer more than we do. It is no good showing pictures of spectacular structures or “Grand Design” homes and think that is enough to inspire people. What will inspire people is the chance to work in a culture where everyone is appreciated for what they do; there is flexibility to have a life as well as a job whether you are a labourer or a director.

Firms in a dark tunnel

One of the indelible impressions I will take away from my time in the institute is that the construction employers who are regarded as the best, really the best, are still not the employer of choice for the mums whose husbands work for those firms.

This is because these firms, for all their good intentions, are screwed by the system, the business model described by Dame Judith Hackitt as the “drive to the bottom”, which throttles any sense of workmanship, pride in the job and professionalism. Once you sink there it is a hard road back and not achieved by being meaner and harder than before.

So many firms seem to be in a dark tunnel now, not sure whether the light they can see is daylight or just another train coming in the opposite direction. There are likely hundreds of our colleagues and co-workers feeling the same, so don’t ignore them. It might just make the difference.

Comments

It is the people at the top that grew up and trained up to be cruel to the frontliners. Many well off firms are practising toughness towards us in my opinion. It is human nature where the rich wants more and putting cosmetic facade on its front. A lot of the time forget its duty of care towards us.
Construction industry has always been slow to respond to social responsibility. However it is good Chris address the issue of mental health today. It is good CIOB engaged in tackling modern slavery. It will be better if the Institute start to address issue about bullying and harassment at site.
Thank you for giving me to voice in here. I hope my english is not bad to be understood

Kaw Lam Chong MCIOB, 4 April 2019

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