Workers talking at construction site reviewing plans

Mental Health Awareness Week – spotlight on construction

  • 14 May 2018

Me 119With this week (14 – 20 May) being Mental Health Awareness Week, Buildingtalk Online Editor Max Banner has taken a look at a couple of news pieces that are focusing on this subject.


Willmott Dixon – Five Steps to Nurture a Happier Workforce

Willmott Dixon, who last year launched the ‘All Safe Minds‘ initiative to raise awareness of mental health issues, have released five simple steps that employers can implement to provide their employees with a supportive and happy work environment.

1. Keep work strictly to work hours

Work-life balance is an incredibly important factor in helping to avoid work-related stress and anxiety. By allowing your staff to ‘switch off’ at the end of the day, and respecting their family/private life, they will ultimately feel more inclined to work harder during work hours. Avoid sending late night emails and don’t expect them to sit up until midnight writing reports – mutual respect and common sense go a very long way.

2. Be Flexible

Life rarely runs to plan. School emergencies, ill-health, hospital visits etc – they’re all stressful enough, without the added worry that your boss is going to penalise you, or even worse, prevent you, from dealing with them. Be realistic – if someone needs time off for a valid reason, make it an easy process. Communicate your company policy, explaining clearly what the expectations are on both sides so that you’re all on the same page – not only will it be massively appreciated but could also help your business function more effectively when emergencies strike.

3. Make it personal

Small acts of appreciation can go a very long way. For example, at Willmott Dixon we give all our employees a day off on their birthday. We find that remaining staff members don’t mind covering their colleagues for one day, because they know they’ll get their turn when their own birthday comes around. If it helps create a happier workforce, what’s one day between friends?

4. Encourage personal development and career goals

It’s cheaper and easier to keep the employees you already have, as oppose to recruiting new ones.
If your staff become disillusioned, bored or unfulfilled in their work, the likelihood is sooner or later they’ll move on. This is costly for your business in terms of recruitment, interviewing and training time, not to mention the decrease in productivity that can take place while you’re busy getting a new member of staff in place. If you understand what your employees are hoping for in the long-term and help them progress, you’re far more likely to keep them. Similarly, if they are struggling with an element of their job, give them the means to communicate that freely to you, knowing that they’ll receive the support they need to master it.

5. Add a simple page to your website

There are already a huge number of professional resources available for people who might be struggling with their mental health. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel – we just need the people we care about to be aware of those existing resources.

Womble Bond Dickinson – looking out for signs and what employers can do

Solicitors Kara Price and Sarah Wales, from transatlantic law firm Womble Bond Dickinson, look at how to identify signs of mental health conditions in the workplace and what employers can do to improve the health and wellbeing of their workplace.

What’s the problem?

Male site workers in construction are three times more likely to commit suicide than the average UK male. This shocking mental health statistic is a vivid reminder of the difficulties faced by many working in the construction industry every day. Troubling data from the Office of National Statistics found that between 2011 and 2015, of the 13,232 in-work suicides recorded, those within the skilled construction and building trades made up 13.2% – despite construction accounting for little over 7 per cent of the UK workforce.

Why construction?

The construction industry lifestyle is undoubtedly both challenging and stressful. Long and demanding working hours, working away from home on site for weeks at a time and the lingering unease in the industry, particularly following Carillion’s recent collapse, are just some of the factors contributing to poor mental health. In a workforce that is predominantly male, specific risks associated with male mental health also need to be considered. The “tough guy” image widespread in the construction industry is very much to blame. Asking for help and opening up about emotions are just not things that come naturally to many of those working in the industry. The combination of these factors results in many suffering in silence.

Know the signs

Whilst poor mental health can manifest itself differently from individual to individual, the Construction Financial Management Association has set out some useful signs to look out for that can indicate poorly managed or untreated mental health conditions:

  • increased lateness, absenteeism and presenteeism (showing up to work physically, but not being able to function)
  • decreased productivity due to distraction and cognitive slowing
  • lack of self-confidence
  • isolation from peers
  • agitation and increased interpersonal conflict among co-workers
  • increased voluntary and involuntary attrition
  • increased feelings of being overwhelmed
  • decreased problem solving ability
What can employers do?

The statistics as they stand are clearly unacceptable – mental health needs to be made an urgent priority by all employers in the construction industry. Emily Pearson, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Be. The Centre for Wellbeing (a mental health charity based in Newcastle upon Tyne specialising in corporate mental health and workplace wellbeing) has provided the following steps that all employers can take to actively improve the health and wellbeing of their workforce.

1. Culture check

Undertake a culture check to establish the culture of the workforce and where there may be particular pain points for staff due to job design and work related stress.

2. Culture change

A change in the culture surrounding mental health needs to start at the top. Leadership teams can show commitment to creating a culture change towards mentally healthier workplaces and workforces by signing the Time to Change Pledge or by investing in a Workplace Wellbeing Strategy to create culture change in a safe and structured manner.

3. Mental health safety net

Employers should ensure their employees have access to and are aware of support available through counselling and therapy services.

4. Up-skilling and education

Team leaders responsible for supporting employees should have sufficient knowledge and skills to be able to spot the signs of poor mental health and to provide support and guidance.

5. Peer support

Employers should up-skill and educate employees so they can look out for any peers who may be struggling with their mental health. Knowing how to start the conversation and knowing how to safely signpost peers to mental health services can make a huge difference at the early signs of mental health difficulty.

6. Reduce stigma

Employers need to reduce stigma, raise awareness, change attitudes and provide knowledge to empower employees to look after their mental health and wellbeing.

7. Embed and repeat

It is essential that employers continue to provide these interventions, services and training in order to embed culture change – not just tick the mental health box.

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