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Jonathon Munslow, Asset and Infrastructure Group Manager and Traffic Manager for South Gloucestershire Council, talks to LCRIG about health and wellbeing in the highways sector.
Q. What is your position in South Gloucestershire Council and at LGTAG?
A. “Asset and Infrastructure Group Manager and Traffic Manager for South Gloucestershire Council. For LGTAG I am a Vice President and Chair of the Highways Infrastructure Management Board.”
Q. Why have LGTAG developed this Health and Wellbeing survey for the industry?
A. “During COVID the nation realised more than ever the importance of health and wellbeing for us all. Particularly in the workplace. In my view we had taken for granted the camaraderie, support and benefit of just being around and physically with our coworkers. On top of this the whole highways sector faced new challenges and pressures supporting communities, business and safe travel during the pandemic.
“As individuals we got on with the task in hand solving problems, keeping services running and continuing to maintain safe highways whilst adapting the infrastructure to new and changed demands. Working at pace with reduced resources this put additional stress and strain on already hard working very busy people in highway authorities, supply chain partners and throughout our industry. To help the country get back on its feet and return to a new normal we need to ensure we, the people who do it, are mentally and physically well. The COVID pandemic is leaving its legacy. Be that those who have suffered directly, those who still have long COVID and those who have been stressed by the demands placed upon them.
“This survey is really important if we are going to help the industry deliver post COVID. We need to get a feel for how our people are feeling right now so we can put in place the support needed. We strive for Well Managed Infrastructure and that starts with well people and understanding how we all are across the industry.”
Q. What impact has the pandemic had on our workforce? Do you have any first-hand examples of how it impacted your authority?
A. “The impact has been widespread and varied. From our onsite workers being abused both verbally and physically to engineers being pushed to design new road layouts at pace; From managers having to react to keep services running whilst keeping our staff safe to construction managers struggling to get in materials to do the work on the ground.
“Many Active Travel and social distancing schemes were put in on best endeavours without the normal time for consultation, revising designs or engaging with businesses and users leading to pressure and kickback. Schemes going in and coming out and going in again. All done whilst learning to work remotely and protecting and caring for our families. And right now supervisors and team managers are managing constantly changing and reduced staffing levels as people are ‘pinged’ and have to isolate.”
Q. Why is it important to raise the profile of health and wellbeing in our sector?
A. “Because we ‘just get on with it’. Because we are an industry focused on things, on the infrastructure, on the assets, on the work to be done. We are an industry that has focused on efficiency and effectiveness for years. Driving leaner and leaner service deliver to spread the money thinner and thinner but still providing safe useable highways for people and businesses to use. We are not directly a people industry. I am not saying managers, leaders and organisations do not recognise the need for good health and wellbeing and haven’t supported people. I am saying it has not been an area of focus or understanding in the past but now that we recognise its importance more than ever we need to do more to raise our own health and wellbeing state. From a group manager perspective, individuals and teams that are happier and healthier physically and mentally are more fun to work with and more productive and more innovative and that supports my own personal wellbeing.”
Q. As a leader in the sector, why is it important for other leaders to support this initiative?
A. “You will feel better because you are supporting change. The survey is the first step to understanding how we all are. The wider all of us in the sector, particularly the sector leadership, spread this survey and encourage our teams and staff to complete it the better picture we will have to inform how we support health and wellbeing into the future.”
Q. What would you say to those who think speaking up won’t make change?
A. “If people don’t speak up and complete the survey then there will definitely not be change. For change to happen the first step is to recognise a need to change the second, where our survey comes in, is to understand what needs to change. Leaders and managers can’t help make things better if they are not made aware of a problem. Be that unmanageable workload on an individual, undeliverable timescales for a team or the pressures of trying to balance home schooling, shopping for vulnerable relatives and working remotely. Hopefully the latter will soon be a thing of the past. But to help make our industry healthier, particularly mental health then please speak up. We can’t help if we don’t know. Tell us your story through the survey.”
Q. If you could see one change in the industry that would help wellbeing, what would it be?
A. “Right now, recognition. Recognition of what we achieved during the pandemic and as we come out of it. Whole industries shut down, highways may have wobbled but we still delivered a full service on the whole.
“Post our LGTAG survey, action. Action so we learn from our pandemic experience. Action to make good sustained health and wellbeing core to how we work, manage and lead.”
Q. What are LGTAG going to do with the results of the survey?
A. “We will be reviewing the results with mental health and wellbeing specialists to draw out key messages, themes and trends. We will use it to hold a mirror up to ourselves as a sector, using it to understand what we might change and how we might do that across the sector. I am hoping we will get enough responses to be able to identify if there are/ have been particular issues for particular areas of the industry so we can think about what might work best to help avoid issues in the future in specific sector areas. My intention is to publish the results and share it with our sector leadership bodies and organisations to inform and influence and provide a catalyst for change where we need it.”