Do we live in unrealistic times?

As individuals, communities and society we live in a much different cultural environment to the one in which we did 20 or so years ago. We are better (if not overly) connected, children are now born with 4-Dimensional opposable thumbs and 360° peripheral vision (apparently…). We are better educated, we are (generally) better fed, we understand core issues of globalisation, of climate change, of political nuance and social mores. And we do so as a greater proportion of the population than was the case 20 or so years ago.

Think about the research schools of thought that now believe we need to develop skill sets for jobs that don’t yet exist. Yet, in many ways we are still trying to initiate work, plan work, implement work and manage work on the ground the same way we did more than 20 years ago. Especially in aspects of how we manage construction. This leads, in many ways, to maintaining our workplaces as still highly toxic. This has consequences.

While we rightly continue to promote the critical role of mental health, and its recognition as a significant core health concern, in both public and private spheres, it seems we are just starting to flick the occasional (and uncomfortable) glance at some of the other elephants in the room, all related, all from the same herd.

There is, perhaps, an element whereby I may be being deliberately provocative, l’avocat du diable, if you like . However, exposure to numerous workplaces over the years has only reinforced this observation. It was further highlighted recently, when a colleague told me that one of the organisations under his remit has a goal of a 4-week turnaround from signing the contract to being fully staffed, boots on the ground and soil turned – for all scales of contract.

When I ask you to think about that, I want you to think about that on a number of levels. Think about sourcing, interviewing, back-ground checks, VOCs, medicals, on-boarding, accommodation, materials, logistics, availability (and quality) of staff, understanding the scope of work, taking time to develop strategy, develop a plan, develop a contingency and foster and nurture relationships with the clients, relationships with suppliers, and to understand the entirety of the full engineering challenge ahead.

Think about the pressure on the delivery team. What if the company wins 4 contracts at the same time across 3 states? Have they set themselves up for success, or have they set themselves to fail? These are some of the elephants, lurking in the corners.

How much pressure does that put on their people? The expectation is that people will just have to sacrifice. But just what are you asking people to sacrifice and for what? And for how long? That sacrifice must have a cost.

The majority of discussions I am involved with, at all levels, concern the personal impact of the role of unrealistic timeframes, expectations and the personal, despairing, feeling of a loss of control and the inability to say “no”. Because the person who says “no” is not a team player, is weak, is not up for the task, is a target, is simply not good enough. It is a strange highly educated world in which we live that we are seen as weak for not working ourselves to death.

In case you are wondering, the word is “Karoshi”. When you work yourself to death. As I discovered last week reading of the 2013 death of a Japanese Reporter who logged 159 hours of overtime in one month. She was 31 years old when her heart failed. Another worker died in 2014, he was 27 when his heart failed after working more than 122 hours overtime in one month.

Which is why these days and months of Mental Health Awareness are crucial, for everyone, at all levels.

And why my next series of short posts will be about Toxic Management, the ongoing curse of the Toxic Workplace, a brief examination of the literature, possible causes and potential solutions and what that actually means for the worker and the workplace in the 21st Century.