Photography: Ivan Jones
After winning in the Quantity Surveying & Construction category, Giles Heather MRICS was also named the RICS Matrics Young Surveyor of the Year 2020. The judges were impressed with his determination to continuously challenge himself, and this year he launched a bespoke mental health and wellbeing initiative to support his organisation’s employees.
What inspired you to champion mental health awareness and wellbeing in your firm?
With a lot of unknowns in the world right now, we’ve all got to do more to care for our employees. I joined Linesight about two years ago, and as soon as I was part of the team I was keen to show my passion for the corporate social responsibility side of the firm. I was lucky enough to be asked by the UK managing director to lead their UK-wide CSR strategy.
I formed a team to drive our chosen initiatives forward, which aligned to the firm’s four CSR pillars, which focus on the workplace, the community, the environment, and the industry. And after asking others to join if it was something they were interested in, I built a team of five. We then went on to coordinate our approach with the CSR teams of the wider global organisation.
Is talking about mental health still taboo in the industry?
Things are changing for the better, but there is always more we can do to ensure employees' mental health is a priority. For employees, it often hasn’t felt easy to come forward, mention that something’s wrong or ask a colleague to talk. Particularly during the pandemic, we wanted to give people the platform to be able to be open about things at work or home that could potentially cause them stress or even depression further down the line.
However, we didn’t want to just pay lip service to mental health and wellbeing, we wanted to make a real difference by offering employees a far more personalised service which can be used on an individual basis, as and when. Employees need flexible support, so we partnered with a company called Headspace, who developed a mental health support app that we have tailored to our employees’ needs.
Your new mental health support strategy was launched almost at the same time that the COVID-19 pandemic struck. How has it made a difference?
With many people working remotely, and when you’re not talking to someone face to face, it can be hard to really empathise and understand how people are on a day-to-day basis. So, for starters, it has been very important to set aside extra time on individual video calls to make sure everyone’s in a good place, and can express how they are feeling and how their work is going in a confidential discussion, which hopefully leaves them feeling motivated for the week ahead.
We’ve also had an incredible 80-90% uptake on the bespoke app, where colleagues can get further support through the app’s services and courses. For anyone needing more assistance, there are options to personally contact counsellors or specialist advisors.
As well as developing the firm’s mental health and wellbeing support strategy, you are also an APC (Assessment of Professional Competence) assessor and mentor, and advise a youth centre charity. How do you manage to take on so much support work?
It keeps me busy, for sure. I would say it’s all about time management, structure, and making sure you have regular meetings in place to track progress. I’m passionate about helping candidates through the APC process, which naturally has been a huge challenge for many people in this disruptive year, and RICS’ digital-first approach has been very successful, keeping assessments going online during the pandemic.
I was part of the assessment panels for the first session of candidates in 2020 who had to adapt to the new assessment method back in May. The APC process is exactly the same, except for the time being it now takes place via a digital communication platform. I believe around 2,000 assessments took place in 2020, which is unbelievable, and really shows how RICS can adapt to adverse circumstances to support members and candidates alike.
It was a wonderful surprise to receive the Young Surveyor of the Year award at the end of what has been a difficult year for everyone. But the teams I work with are at the heart of my success, as we strive to create a great place to work and invest in our leaders of the future. I want our expertise to shape a better built environment for future generations and, ultimately, generate value for our clients and communities.
My vision is for the construction industry to be truly inclusive, sustainable and digitised so that we can broaden the public knowledge of the vast range of opportunities available and tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges in resource scarcity, rapid urbanization and climate change.
"Things are changing for the better, but there is always more we can do to ensure employees' mental health is a priority" Giles Heather MRICS, Linesight