Supporting Mental Health in Building and Construction Teams

Supporting Mental Health in Building and Construction Teams

Suicide is now sadly the single biggest killer of men under 45 and male site workers are three times more likely to commit suicide than the average male in the UK. In fact, suicide kills more construction workers than falls. Depression and anxiety have overtaken musculoskeletal disorders in construction, and the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) warns of a silent mental health crisis in the sector. These facts alone are a shocking and sobering read.

Tackling mental ill-health is a significant challenge, especially in remote teams, and it goes above and beyond merely helping your team to maintain a healthy work life balance. Employers must re-examine working practices, and rethink how they support mental health at work. Business success depends on it, but even more importantly, it could save lives. This blog examines the key issues affecting mental wellbeing in the building services sectors and provides employers with some practical steps for supporting those struggling with mental health at work.

What’s Going Wrong?

There are a number of systemic issues. Firstly, these are male-dominated industries with an ingrained and dysfunctional macho culture. The stigma of discussing mental wellbeing at work is still very much at play. Fear of ridicule and shame make it very hard for someone to open up about their feelings or talk to a colleague.

Secondly, contractual work is the norm across construction and building services and stress levels are comparatively high amongst this type of worker. This is due to low job security, no paid sick leave or holidays, or access to company health schemes. If a worker were to admit feeling mentally unwell, they may not be picked for the next job. Concerns about injuries in physically demanding work also creates pressure.

Change is Afoot

The facts so far paint a bleak picture, but society is changing – people are starting to talk more openly about mental health. Conversations about depression, anxiety, addiction, and more have moved from the private to the public sphere. Celebrities and people in public life have helped by opening up about their own struggles and are inspiring people to do the same and seek the help they need. There has never been a more apt time for industry-wide conversations and solutions to come to the fore.

What Employers Need to Do

1. Educate yourself

Many employers don’t see supporting mental health as their responsibility, or at least don’t recognise it as being as equally important as physical health. Let’s face it, it’s easy to turn a blind eye to mental wellbeing if you’ve never suffered from any issues yourself! But here’s an important fact, 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem of some kind each year. 

1 in 4 people

This means that at least some of your staff, at some point, are going to experience a dip in their mental health. Even if you only look at it from a business perspective, consider how poor mental health is affecting work performance. And remember, anyone can experience mental ill health, from apprentices to those in your senior management team.

Action: Read up on some of the common mental health issues. Good places to start for information gathering are:

2. Spot the signs

It’s critical to be able to recognise the early signs of depression, anxiety and other mental health problems. If you know how to spot mental health issues at work, you can put things in place to help. 

Look out for changes in behaviour – the most common signs of poor mental health at work are:

  • lateness and absenteeism
  • decreased productivity, taking longer to complete tasks and struggling to multi-task
  • drop in self-confidence
  • lack of enjoyment
  • isolated and withdrawn
  • agitation and volatility (may be more argumentative with colleagues)

Action: Regular one-to-one conversations are a must and pulse surveys are definitely worthwhile, especially for remote teams. Understanding what is stressing your employees means you can do something about it. Spotting the early warning signs means you can intervene.

3. Start the conversation

Do your workers feel confident to talk about mental health in the workplace – or is there still a stigma attached to it? People aren’t suddenly going to open up just because you stick up a poster in the portaloo. Start the conversation about mental health and keep having it. 

Action: YOU (and your managers) need to ask the questions – how are employees coping with their workload?  Are they struggling with the lockdown? Do they have any issues outside of work? Don’t worry about saying the wrong thing – saying nothing is worse. 

Go on a socially-distanced walk with a colleague to ask them how they really are. Make time to properly listen and show you care. Repeating back to someone is good way of demonstrating that you are truly listening. You don’t have to fill the silence if things are strained or difficult.  Always follow up on conversations. Make it your business to know how your staff are feeling. And don’t forget your managers – they have mental health needs too. Opening the door with a conversation is the first step.

4. Awareness and signposting

To support mental health at work, you need the right foundations in place. Developing a mental health policy (just like any other health and safety policy) will give you a framework to work from and lets staff know you are serious about their mental wellbeing.

A survey of 2,000 construction professionals carried out by COIB in October 2019 found stress (97%) to be the most common mental health issue felt in the past year. Think about what factors are causing stress, and at which job level does this most frequently occur? Prevention is crucial. You have the power to put things in place to minimise stress at work and raise awareness about the importance of mental wellbeing.

Action: Make sure your staff know about any employee assistance programme (benefits/support) you have in place and make them aware of any external organisations they can turn to, such as:

Deliver talks to your whole workforce about mental health to raise awareness.

5. Knowledge is power: train staff

Do your line managers feel confident to support their team’s mental wellbeing? Managers need training to develop the listening skills and perception to notice when there’s a problem. Cues can be incredibly subtle and are even harder to spot in remote teams. The whole point of this is to develop timely interventions – a small problem can more easily be resolved. But managers need to know how.

Action: The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) has developed courses specific to the construction industry, including bespoke Tool Box Talks, bite-size ‘Lunch and Learn’ sessions and mental health awareness courses. Also, consider Mental Health First Aider training. 

For CITB courses, you may be able to get a grant for training costs (towards training for directly employed staff and all sub-contractors).

6. Be part of a bigger movement

Get serious about addressing the silent epidemic that could be happening right under your nose in your own workforce. Make connections, open doors and start conversations.

Action: Sign up to the Building Mental Health Charter

Get your organisation on its mental health journey with guidance from Mates in Mind, a registered UK charity raising awareness and addressing the stigma of poor mental health across workplaces.

In Conclusion

A compassionate leadership approach is essential. This doesn’t mean you have to dilute your commitment to high-quality performance. It is about listening to employees, understanding the challenges they face, expressing empathy, and taking action to support them. You don’t have to solve everyone’s mental health problems, but you do need to be aware of them and be able to signpost people to get help. Two builders talking over coffee

Workers might not feel comfortable speaking with their GP or even their friends or family about their mental health problems, but if programmes were put in place within their company and they were encouraged to use them, they might.

At Joblogic we believe in supporting mental health at work and in empowering the people in your teams. It’s time we looked out for each other.

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