How the construction industry can best address mental health in the workplace this Mental Health Awareness Week

11th May 2022

As it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, we look at what can be done to talk more about mental health in the construction industry and what support is out there.

Experiencing mental health issues at work is far from a rare occurrence. In fact, at least one in six workers has experienced common mental health problems, including anxiety and depression according to mental health charity Mind, while evidence from the Mental Health Foundation suggests 12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions. As the name suggests, Mental Health Awareness Week, which has been running for over 20 years, aims to get people talking about how to alleviate stress and mental health issues, as well as achieving good mental health.

The statistics relating specifically to the construction industry and mental health make for particularly worrying reading which is why it’s even more important to raise awareness. A study by Glasgow Caledonian University commissioned by the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity found that suicide rates among construction workers had risen from 26 per 100,000 in 2015 to 29 per 100,000 in 2019 while 44% of those questioned in research by charity Mates in Mind and the Institute for Employment Studies worried that their workload is too high.

Construction roles can be subject to several pressures from maintaining and fulfilling contracts to working long hours, balancing tight budgets and considering the increasing cost of supplies and lack of availability of skilled labour. Plus, being a male-dominated industry with a ‘macho’ culture, there’s been something of an unwillingness to seek help and support when people need it.

From a legal perspective, Acas says employers have a ‘duty of care’ meaning they must do all they reasonably can to support their health, safety, and wellbeing by making sure the working environment is safe, protect staff from discrimination and carry out risk assessments. It recommends creating a ‘supportive environment that treats physical and mental health equally’.

It suggests employers should make sure employees have regular one-to-ones with their managers to talk about any problems they are having as well as arranging mental health training and appointing mental health champions. The government’s Thriving at Work report also sets out core standards for mental health at work which includes ‘encouraging open conversations about mental health and the support available, during the recruitment process and at regular intervals throughout the employment, offer appropriate workplace adjustments to employees who require them’. The Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD) meanwhile emphasises the importance of line managers having guidance needed to support their teams, from spotting early signs of mental health issues, signposting to support, reviewing job design and offering flexible working.

Mental health charity Mind also has some general wellbeing advice for individuals at work from establishing greater connections at work through talking to colleagues instead of sending an email, being more active on the journey to and from the office, during lunchtimes and the working day and being present in the moment and enjoying the environment around you through, for example, getting a plant for your workspace or clearing your clutter.

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is loneliness and while the return to the office is well underway for a lot of organisations and the hybrid work model has been readily adopted by many, employees may still feel somewhat adrift from their place of work. In some cases, they have spent up to two years away from the office after all. This is where group activities can come in. Mind highlights the importance of engaging in work or educational pursuits: anything from signing up for classes to setting up a book club to enhance self-esteem and promote wellbeing. These can also be useful tools in combating loneliness. as well as acting as a buffer against mental ill health. Giving something back by participating in social and community life can also boost wellbeing, which is something that can come under a company’s ESG goals. Mind says that ‘an act of kindness once a week over a six-week period is associated with an increase in wellbeing.”

BW for its part is offering a range of resources to support its staff’s mental health including an interactive health kiosk which links to further health support, online webinars and other online resources including mental health awareness training.

Given that a Chartered Institute of Building poll states that over half of construction professionals work for firms that have no policies on mental health in the workplace, clearly education and training are the way forward for maintaining good mental health, eliminating stress, and removing the stigma around talking about it.