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October Conversation with the CEO

October 2023

A bride and groom sit on stone steps, gazing adoringly at each other.

A successful project, 25 years in development

Earlier this year, Darren and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary.

When I look back over our long and happy marriage, I can think of so many wonderful things that have only come into being because of our partnership.

Three of those wonderful things are our children, of whom I am enormously proud. The other is Iconic Project Management; we genuinely think of our Iconic team as an extension of our family.

We are personally invested in our people’s happiness, wellbeing and success, and they reward us with the most incredible dedication and performance.

Darren and I celebrated our anniversary thoroughly over the last couple of months (there was a night in this amazing castle and a party with family and friends) but we’d always said that we’d have a second honeymoon once we reached this milestone.

We married young and money was tight, so our honeymoon was two weeks self-catering in a cottage in Solva, Pembrokeshire. It was idyllic. The weather was glorious for notoriously wet West Wales, and we had a lovely time walking the coastal path, visiting St David’s Cathedral, sitting on a different unspoilt beach each day.

However, when our friends all started getting married, ten years later, they all seemed to be going on exotic honeymoons and I must confess that I had the occasional pang of jealousy.

View of the sea in the foreground with the sun setting over cliffs in the background. Taken from Newgale Beach, Pembrokeshire.

Time for a break

After what feels like years of planning, we are finally off on our dream holiday to Mauritius. By the time you read this, we’ll have just returned to work, hopefully feeling rested, relaxed and ready to drive Iconic forward. We’ve picked an Autumn holiday for various logistical reasons, but it means that, for the first time in my life, I haven’t had a break over the summer. I don’t mind admitting that I’m feeling very, very tired. I am desperate for that week on the beach.

My colleagues will tell you that I am not at my best when I’m tired. Despite my best efforts to be nice, I keep finding myself stomping around the office like a grumpy teenager, snapping at innocent bystanders and generally not being that fun to be around. I’m really trying not to be too cantankerous, because I believe that bad moods are contagious, but some days it’s a struggle.

An exhausted person with his head on a table hiding under a laptop computer

I know I’m not the only person in the world who feels like this and there’s good reason that paid leave is enshrined in law for workers in the UK. Tired workers not only spread their bad moods around like a cold, but they are more likely to make mistakes and communicate poorly.

Wellness is a commercial priority

Project managers are, as a breed, incredibly focused individuals who work unbelievably hard to make sure project milestones are reached on time. The success of their projects hinges on their attention to detail, problem solving skills and, above all, their ability to communicate effectively. It’s a tiring job.

Earlier this year, we had numerous construction projects at critical phases. The whole project management team was working extraordinarily hard, and doing a fantastic job, but it was starting to take a toll on the wellbeing of several of our project managers.

I care about these people on a personal level, and I don’t want to see them suffering, but their wellbeing is also critical to the success of our clients’ construction projects and, consequently, our business. Finding a solution became a commercial priority.

On one occasion, I gently suggested that an exhausted-looking and crabby colleague might like to consider taking some holiday. He snapped back that he couldn’t possibly – he was too busy!

The trouble is that, like many people in many jobs, he was always going to be too busy. Plus, like a lot of parents, he was using a fair proportion of his leave allowance to look after his children in the school holidays. That doesn’t leave much space for focusing on rest and relaxation. I understood his point, but working people into the grave is not what we want in our business. We needed a creative solution.

Space for thinking

What we came up with was the ‘thinking day’. Every employee is strongly encouraged to take one of these each quarter and the rules are quite simple: you mustn’t be at home or at the office and you mustn’t answer calls or look at emails. If people find their thinking day beneficial, they are encouraged to talk about it with their colleagues.

To date, every member of the Iconic Project Management team has taken us up on the offer of a thinking day and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Some people have just had a lovely day to themselves, walking in the woods, going for a spa day, or whatever, but some people have had profound personal epiphanies. The most common comments are around how rarely people get to spend time alone in their own heads these days and how refreshing it is to do just that.

The most noticeable benefit of thinking days is the improved atmosphere in our office. On the whole, everybody seems much more relaxed, the ambience is more positive, and the conversations seem more constructive and collaborative.

A person standing in a field of wheat with her arms outstretched

It's important to note that, while I’m pretty sure thinking days are the best idea I’ve ever had, they are not a substitute for appropriate treatment for mental illness. Extra time off is great if you’re feeling a bit tired or stressed but it is not a magic cure for more serious issues.

Finding the right support

As you may have read in Janet’s blog post a while ago, there is a mental health crisis within construction in the UK.

There are all sorts of reasons why this is the case but, luckily, there are plenty of options to reach help when people find themselves in need, such as the Lighthouse Club. This wonderful charity is dedicated to emotional, physical and financial wellbeing of construction workers and their families and we are extremely proud to support them.

Crd showing the Lighthouse Club Construction Industry Helpline. Telephone UK 0345 605 1956. ROI 1800 939 122

Talking of supporting worthy causes, Darren and I took part in the Thames Bridge Trek a few weeks ago and were pleased to raise more than £1100 for the National Bobath Cerebral Palsy Centre. If you sponsored us, thank you so much – we really appreciate it. We were looking forward to a pleasant stroll along the Thames, believing as we do that a long walk is good for the soul, but the brutally hot weather made it a real challenge. I wimped out after around 8 miles, but Darren is made of sterner stuff and made it to the end. We have agreed that any future attempts at ‘ultra’ events should be in Winter.

As I come to the end of this month’s blog post, I realise that I’ve found writing rather cathartic. My mood is lifted already… although maybe it’s the thought that I’m going on holiday in a few days. Either way, I hope my Iconic team will forgive my recent grouchiness, as loving families usually do.

A very hot, tired Director of Project Management crosses the finish line of the Thames Bridges Trek


Lizzie Hewitt

Lizzie is CEO at Iconic Project Management, taking care of the running of the business so that the project managers can get on with the important job of managing projects.

Check her out on LinkedIn or say hi on Twitter @captainlizzo.

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