PiLON: Putting our people first

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PiLON recently became a 10-time International Safety Award winner in the distinction category in the 2022 awards. It follows the social housing contractor’s win for best wellbeing initiative in the awards in 2021.

Safety Management caught up with two of its core team, Sid Clark, PiLON’s SHEQ manager and Joanne de Sousa, who leads the company’s work on wellbeing, to find out about continuing momentum after launching its successful wellbeing strategy.

Joanne de Sousa with Sid Clark, PiLON’s SHEQ manager

Committee at the heart of wellbeing

Mental health has been a core focus of PiLON’s since January 2020, following a speech at a conference where the horrifying statistics on suicide in the construction sector were highlighted.

“Our employees became more aware and interested in wellbeing following our first campaign [which won the ISA] and since we established our Wellbeing Committee,” says Sid.

The committee is chaired by Joanne, who was appointed in the same year, and has volunteers from five other departments plus three senior managers. The committee meets regularly to plan campaigns and discuss initiatives and ideas; they also take an active role, along with the company’s mental health first aiders, in monitoring employee wellbeing.

Wellbeing is a vast area, so they decided to approach it by focusing on two things, says Joanne. “The first, has been to provide the right support. We do this via our employee assistance programme, wellbeing website, mental health first aiders, posters with QR codes leading directly to support resources, and many other initiatives focusing on different aspects of wellbeing throughout the year.”

The second, she says is awareness and education, specifically around mental health where there may have been stigma and misconception. “A lot of what we do is aimed at raising awareness and keeping conversations around stress, mental health and wellbeing going so that we create a culture without stigma where people feel comfortable and supported enough to ask for help.”

Communication is key

Making the strategy work at all levels has required a combination of organisation and empathy. Communications are a vital part of the plan. In the ISA award for 2022, Sid highlighted how for the project submitted, regular one-to-one meetings with each staff member were held with the Contracts Manager to facilitate a discussion covering any concerns they might have. PiLON then used trend analysis to understand any concerns that were frequently or more commonly cropping up and discussed these at weekly senior management meetings to find solutions.

The project was for Optivo Homes in London where a team of 30 operatives were demolishing and refurbishing kitchens and bathrooms, and deadlines came up as a source of work-related stress. “We recognised that client deadlines and KPIs, led to some staff members feeling under pressure and concerned about working hours,” says Sid. “To mitigate these concerns, we implemented a staggered work programme to allow for a more relaxed approach to presence on site.”

One step at a time

Health promotion is good for engagement as well as being an important means of sharing advice and urging workers to prioritise work–life balance. The committee meets regularly to plan and discuss initiatives based on wellbeing days such as stress awareness month, gets feedback from these and regularly asks its people what they would like to see next. A wellbeing section in the company newsletter highlights campaigns.

A wellbeing day in late April included posture assessments, health assessments and a healthy lunch. Joanne says: “We arranged several talks from experts on subjects such as nutrition. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. It even kick started our internal step challenge which currently has 34 employees and is growing fast.”

Mental health and stress

On the more serious end of the spectrum, stress is a priority to tackle because it’s also a risk to safety, not just to the worker but others around them. “Mistakes can happen when people are unable to focus, and when working on a construction site, it is very important that we are able to pick up on this and provide the right support,” says Joanne.

Fifteen percent of staff are trained in mental health first aid to spot if someone is struggling and then know which words to use to support or point them in the direction of help. “If we can spot when a colleague [is unwell], we are more likely to prevent accidents from happening.”

Speaking more openly about burnout, substance abuse, anxiety, or other mental health issues has also helped create a culture of openness where employees feel able to ask for help. “We have been talking and raising awareness of the symptoms for quite a while now, and staff members are coming forward to tell us when this is something they are experiencing.

Sid Clark delivering a toolbox talk. Photograph: PiLON

While it isn’t always work-related, we assess the individual’s current workload, listen to understand their situation, discuss the support available to them and take action accordingly,” says Joanne.

On the right track?

Measuring the impact of any wellbeing programme is tricky because our wellbeing and mental health are fluid states, says Joanne. But attendance at events, feedback, and usage of support resources like PiLON’s wellbeing website are all measured. Most useful is often written feedback. The word ‘supportive’ coming up 43 times in a recent survey, equating to over 75 per cent of respondents.

It’s been important that senior managers give credibility to the work by taking part in it – the step challenges, awareness days – as well as giving financial backing to the committee’s work.

Joanne says that the kickback from the investment is improved retention and recruitment. “It has actually been mentioned by candidates that one of the things that attracted them to work for PiLON, was our stance on employee wellbeing and campaigns to improve mental health in the sector.”

What plans are there for the coming year? It’s all about building on progress made, with ‘people’ the foundation. “Even if we ignored the fact that it is the right thing to do, putting employee wellbeing at the forefront of any business will reduce absenteeism, improve staff performance, support employee retention and attract new talent into the business,” summarises Joanne.

But more immediately, the team are looking forward to celebrating their ISA, says Sid. “This is very important to us, we have won this award for the past ten years and it requires input from not just the safety team, but from the entire team on site.”

He adds: “We are looking forward to celebrating the hard work that goes into ensuring our people are safe each day. We have missed many events due to Covid restrictions and are very much looking forward to seeing other industry professionals once again in person.”



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