Posted: 21 Mar. 2022 5 min. read

Championing mental health in real estate and planning



I recently took part in a panel discussion to staff at Deloitte about mental health and burnout. For many, it was the first in-person training that they had attended for two years. It was great to engage in the room again and to answer some excellent questions. 

One of my roles at the event was to be open about my own experience during my career, to show how important it is to normalise conversations about mental health and help increase understanding of how to deal with burnout.  I was asked to attend in my role as a Mental Health Champion.

A few years ago, I received training on how leaders can spot whether their colleagues are suffering from mental health difficulties.  When hearing about the symptoms to look out for, I recognised that I had experienced some of them in the past.  I was invited to share an occurrence with colleagues.  

In a previous role, I was told with two days’ notice that my summer holiday had to be cancelled due to work deadlines and resource pressures in the business.  I was in desperate need of a break and it was not a fun conversation when I had to break the news to my family.  Looking back with more knowledge, I was overwhelmed and suffering.

I started my career in the ‘sink or swim’ culture of the 1990s.  It was a sign of weakness to suggest that you couldn’t cope or had mental health problems. 

Fortunately, the culture is changing now, although I still have conversations with senior members of the real estate industry who continue to live in the ‘suck it up’ world.  Retaining and attracting talent should be top of our minds in the post-pandemic world, so it’s important to recognise that our best people may need the most support.  A common question we hear from interviewees is what kind of support they will receive during their time at the firm.

The changing culture was brought home to me by a fellow panellist.  He was very open about the difficulties he faced during the pandemic, when more and more work was being piled up on him and he couldn’t escape it from his bedroom-cum-office.  He found support, took time off to recover and was pleased to confirm that seeking help has not affected his promotion prospects.

Mental health has never been more relevant in town planning, in both the public and private sectors.  We have spoken for years about the lack of resources in local authority planning departments.  Planning officers seem to be under more pressure than ever, with overwhelming workloads and increasingly demanding applicants, councillors and local residents.  The challenges are intensified by many officers still having to work from home, thereby missing the interaction and support of the office environment.

It is our role as planning advisers to support planning officers wherever possible.  We should see them as colleagues, be sensitive when chasing for decisions and provide well considered explanations of the issues raised by our projects.  We don’t have to see each other as adversaries, and our shared experiences often result in close friendships.

We also need to consider how the planning system can improve the quality of urban places.  The pandemic has taught us all the value of open space and areas to relax.  I set myself daily challenges to maintain my own mental and physical health and encourage others to do the same.  There are many lessons that I take into how I will influence places for the future.

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Jeremy Castle

Jeremy Castle

Director

Jeremy Castle’s career spans more than 25 years. He is well known as a leader of planning teams for major urban regeneration projects. He has worked on a wide variety of development projects as an adviser and on the client side. As a client, his most recognisable projects are Central Saint Giles and Battersea Power Station. Since joining Deloitte in 2012, he has led teams for major projects in London, including the reuse of the Broadcast/Media Centres on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for a new technology hub, a project in Nine Elms to deliver 1,500 homes and the relocation of wholesale food markets to Dagenham. Jeremy also spent more than 2 years seconded into one of Deloitte’s largest public sector clients, where he led projects across London through the planning stage.