Having previously struggled with mental health issues, Ben was most recently appointed a Prince’s Trust ‘Youth Ambassador’ – a role which helps brings young people closer to the Trust by sharing inspiring stories. His time at Balfour Beatty has seen his confidence grow and, with his new Ambassadorial role, he wants to help others and destigmatise mental health.
At Balfour Beatty we take mental health seriously. We’ve already taken a number of positive steps to support our people, including training 561 mental health first aiders and partnering with Mates in Mind, a leading mental wellbeing charity, in 2017 to tackle the stigma around mental health within our industry.
Ben, I’m so pleased to be talking to you today – it sounds like you’ve been on an incredible journey and doing some amazing things over the last few years to encourage people to talk openly about mental health. Firstly, can you tell me a bit about yourself and your career so far.
Born and raised in Yorkshire, I’ve always been passionate about technology. I knew from a young age that I was interested in perusing a career in the industry – it excited me, and I wanted to explore it further.
But having battled mental health issues for most of my life and having been diagnosed with depression and anxiety at around 17 years old, I failed most of my second year sixth form exams and subsequently struggled to find employment.
It wasn’t until I found the Prince’s Trust programme, that I was finally able to gain the confidence I needed to get my foot on the career ladder. I was inducted into Balfour Beatty as an Administration Assistant, and with the support of my mentors – who took the time to understand my ultimate career aspirations – I was able to turn my passion into a reality. I was thrilled when I was offered a position as a Data Analyst Apprentice in May 2021.
How has Balfour Beatty helped you, and supported you, along your mental health journey?
Balfour Beatty has made leaps and bounds in creating a workplace that treats mental health like physical health. Since joining around two years ago, I’ve been working hard to try and learn as much as I can from Balfour Beatty. I’ve learnt so much here and it has helped me to feel much more comfortable in the workplace.
Obviously, this doesn’t mean that I’m careless with work or blind to consequences, but I feel content to experiment, learn and take a more gentle approach to my afternoon if my head isn’t ‘in the game’. They’ve been so supportive, and I’ve really been given some room to try and find a rhythm that works for me, on my terms.
Having a trained network across the company, made up of colleagues who genuinely want to help, is such an important part of breaking down any stigmas in talking about mental health.
I understand that you’re a ‘Youth Ambassador’ for the Prince’s Trust. Can you tell me a little bit about your role?
The Prince’s Trust gave me the opportunity to turn my life around and gave me the tools I needed to tackle my confidence issues and mental health challenges head on. When I took on the position of ‘Youth Ambassador’, I felt it was in my power to make the same journey that I did – I felt it was almost my moral obligation to do so.
Ultimately, I want to help build a world that can cater to, help, and accept everyone for who they are. That is certainly not limited to, but definitely includes all of those who struggle with their mental health.
Through my role as ‘Youth Ambassador’, I have had the opportunity to share my story and speak to so many varied and interesting people. I’ve even met people and seen places I never expected; most recently I was invited to St James Palace to speak at an event attended by HRH The Prince of Wales!
Do you have any ‘top tips’ for those who find it difficult adapting to the workplace due to mental health issues?
If you haven’t already, try and make sure you understand what’s happening to your mental health. When people mention mental health, they tend to think of depression or, anxiety, but there are far more facets to mental health than this.
If you are generally unsure what you’re experiencing or need clarity, reach out to a GP. Understanding yourself is the first step in building a life that you can thrive in and knowing what to ask for in the workplace.
The best advice I can share, as vague as it is, is to love yourself – when dealing with these issues it can be easy to blame yourself, put yourself down, but it’s often untrue and always unhelpful.
Be true to yourself and embrace your struggles. Speak with your Line Manager and see if help can be provided or reach out to any of the Mental Health First Aiders. Many things could alleviate issues: a different role, noise cancelling earphones, a mental health first aider – there are plenty of possibilities that could work for you. Never be afraid to ask for help.
In your opinion, what do you think needs to be done to combat the stigma around mental health in the construction industry?
In the construction industry, where night shifts and weekend shifts are common, it can be easy to forget the toll those longer hours, early starts and unusual shift patterns can take.
We need to encourage people to talk openly about their mental health and create a culture where it is okay to express these concerns. We need to continue to change the hearts and minds of people, who still put ‘work first’, even when it is damaging their own mental health.
While positive steps have been made, we must not rest on our laurels. We must continue to focus on mental health not only across our own workforce but involve our supply chain and industry partners too.
We must treat Health like Safety.
If you would like to find more about what Balfour Beatty are doing for mental health in construction, listen to our latest Infrastructure Matters podcast episode here
Ben Jewers-Pettinger, Data Analyst Apprentice