The construction sector is proving to be one of the worst cases for staff well being. In this blog we have looked in to the problem and what solutions are available. There is also some great resources to download click here to skip to these.
Worrying 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 seven percent of the UK workforce.
Several reasons have been suggested for particularly poor health, safety and well-being figures in the construction industry, including the large numbers of transitory workers. In a workforce which is predominantly male, specific risks associated with male mental health also need to be considered. The “tough guy” image, which is widespread within the construction industry, is very much to blame. Asking for help and opening up about do not come naturally to many of those working in this particular industry. You can imagine eyes glazing over at yet another health and safety induction. Meanwhile, there is a suspicion that some of the smaller companies are less committed to health and safety principles.
Improvements, it is suggested, must come from really understanding how people feel about the work and jobs — a potentially tough nut to crack. In construction, this means moving away from its traditional macho culture. Evidence has shown that the increasing presence of women in the North Sea oil and gas industry over the past two decades quickly marginalised cavalier attitudes to safety. Would more women in the sector change attitudes to health?
In the highly fragmented construction sector, where driving costs down is a constant priority, such changes could be more difficult. There are also less obvious factors. The HSE figures show that nearly 20% of reported work-related illnesses result from stress due to long hours, depression often caused or intensified by long periods of separation from family members, plus general feelings of anxiety linked to job security fears. It is thought that suicide figures in the sector could be as much as 10 times higher than average sector work fatality figures.
As mental ill health becomes a growing problem throughout the working world, the union Unite encourages its members to become mental first aiders and ensure that all workers have someone they can talk to about personal issues. Companies need to take the same route in providing a sympathetic listening ear and signposting the way to professional support. Similarly, they should look at paving the way for a supported return to work where time off has been necessary, such as with flexible or part-time working.
It is important that employers can be observant of the signs of possible mental health issues. Whilst poor mental health can manifest itself differently from individual to individual, here are some helpful signs to look out for that which 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.
The statistics for the construction industry are clearly unacceptable. Mental health needs to be made an urgent priority by all employers in the industry. Employers should not only care about this issue for the well being of their staff but poor well being affects business. It is reported that Poor mental health costs employers between £33 and £42 billion per year. Here are some steps employers can take to actively improve the health and wellbeing of their workforce.
1. Culture change – Often the culture of a workplace can make it almost impossible for someone to reach out or talk about their issues. The is especially prevelant in the construction industry. 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 by investing in a Workplace Wellbeing Strategy to create culture change in a safe and structured manner. If you’re an employer Take a look at our guide on ‘how to have a conversation with an employee about their mental health’.
2. Promote support – Employers need to ensure their employees have access to and are aware of support available through counselling and therapy services. Encouraging anyone struggling to talk to their GP or to contact one of the many charities available. We have created a poster for the construction industry to encourage workers to talk to their employer or if in urgent need the Samaritans download it here.
3. Education on mental health – 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.
4. Peer support – It is not just employers who can spot mental illness issues educating employees to look out for any peers who may be struggling with their mental health is a great way to improve the morale of staff. 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. Take a look at our guide on ‘how to have a conversation with an employee about their mental health’.
5. 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.
6. 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.
We have created some resources to help employers in the construction industry trying to tackle mental health
Construction Industry Poster – To try and encourage employees to speak up we have created a poster, which focuses on the fact PPE cannot protect against mental health issues. The aim of the poster and its main message is to get people to talk to their employers. Once a workplace wellbeing strategy is in place this poster can be used to encourage struggling employees to talk. We have left a space at the bottom for employees to add a phone number or email address for the well-being contact in their workplace.
Guide for employers – How to have a conversation with an employee about their mental health
We know that sometimes the hardest part of improving mental health culture is the fear of conversations. Most people are anxious about how to start the conversation surrounding somebodies wellbeing. We have taken tips from Mind to create a guide for employers to help them have a conversation with an employee about their mental health.
If you feel like you are currently struggling with your mental health or well-being then the best thing to do is to see your GP. They will be able to assist with you getting the right help. We have however collated a list of helplines and online self help resources below:
If you are feeling suicidal or need immediate help then please ring one of the following helplines.
Samaritans 116 123
Mind 0300 123 3393
Self Help websites
https://moodgym.com.au/ – This is an interactive self-help book which helps you to learn and practise skills which can prevent and manage symptoms of depression and anxiety.
https://llttf.com/ – This site offers free online courses covering low mood, stress and resiliency. They can help you to work out why you feel as you do, how to tackle problems, build confidence, get going again, feel happier, stay calm, tackle upsetting thinking and more.