By Fawaz Bitar, Chair of IOGP
Some of you may know my story already but many won’t. About ten years ago, while bodysurfing with my son, I had an accident that changed my life forever. As I lay in the water, unable to move, I ran out of breath. It’s true what they say, that your life flashes in front of you when you are about to lose it. Fortunately, I was pulled out of the sea and because of the quick reactions of my family, friends, bystanders, an emergency air ambulance, an amazing medical team, and no small dose of luck, I made it through.
But survival was just the start of my journey. What followed was months of slow, and only occasionally steady, recovery. It was a painstaking process – one where I would have to relearn everyday tasks that I had previously taken for granted.
I’m not exactly as I was before but I’m much better than I thought I would ever be. And while my accident was undoubtedly physical, the real challenges of my recovery were overwhelmingly mental. There were some really dark days. Days when I was too physically tired, or emotionally drained, or mentally isolated to get up and go to therapy. Days when I literally felt like giving up.
And what carried me through those moments were my family, friends, and colleagues – the fact that there were people out there who cared for me.
A caring industry
Recently this got me thinking about whether our industry provides that level of care for everyone or if I was just lucky. Do our people know that we genuinely care about them, physically, emotionally and mentally?
In all honesty, care may not have featured very visibly in the industry I joined more than 30 years ago. Back then there was a very macho culture – one where it was more important to show strength over vulnerability.
When I previously ran operations, creating a culture of care seemed a long way off. Did we listen to our people’s concerns and truly look out for each other? Perhaps not. And when things went wrong, I’m not sure we always responded in the most supportive way. I learned that I had to change.
Fortunately, things have moved on. There’s a fast-growing realisation that we must care for each other and, importantly, show that this care is authentic.
But we can all do more to strengthen that culture of care – particularly when it comes to talking about mental health. The world around us is changing fast and life has its fair share of challenges. The stress can be overwhelming, and some people may not show their vulnerabilities. What I have realised is that everyone has something – at work or at home.
Talking mental health
The statistics are striking: one in three of us will be diagnosed with a mental health condition at some point in our lives, while three in five have experienced mental health issues due to work.
In a world where awareness of mental health is growing, how can our industry play its part?
As a starting point, IOGP has some useful materials available already, like this one on managing workplace stress or this one on managing psychosocial risks in our sector. There are several charities and organisations that also provide helpful advice, such as Time to Change , Mind or the World Health Organization.
For me there is a simpler place we can all start: being genuinely interested in how our colleagues are feeling – in reality, they are our friends and family. Let’s get to know our people’s lives with more informal exchange, authentic dialogue and understand what is going on beneath the surface.
Too often we underestimate the power of a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
We can all play our part in strengthening that culture of care. Not because we have to, but because we want to. And if you sense someone is struggling, then please do something about it. Encourage your team members to seek help or raise it with someone yourself.
But most of all, let’s just be there for each other. Life has taught me that in tough times the love and closeness of family and friends will get you through. If our teams know we care about them, they are much more likely to let us in and help.
In a world where we can be anything, let us be kind.