The Construction News has published a survey on the mental health experiences of workers in the construction industry, and the results have been described by construction business leaders as shocking.
The report found:
- One in four workers had considered taking their life.
- 55% had experienced mental health issues.
- 42% had suffered these issues at their current workplace.
Reading the Early Signs
Said one respondent, “It starts off small. You start feeling a bit sorry for yourself – and that seems to go on for weeks. You then begin to isolate from your colleagues because you want to be alone. Then, you start looking for an excuse not to come in. I was looking to injure myself.”
This description captures the progression from mild to moderate to severe symptoms of stress, followed by self-harm thinking patterns that suggest that these workers do not have the coping tools and information they need to manage the demands of the industry they work in and their lives. What starts off as a minor concern escalates into life-threatening behaviours, because no-one is taking the warning signs seriously.
Why Is Construction Different?
When work demands exceed personal resources to respond effectively, mood plummets, problem-solving skills diminish and the fight or flight response kicks in. When ignored these symptoms and behaviours develop into depression, anxiety and more serious mental health conditions.
One in four people across the UK will experience this at some point and one in six will experience it at their place of work.
This is true for all of us, however, the long-term implications can be more serious in male-dominated industries due to the reluctance men have to show their vulnerability, as we discussed in an earlier post, however, the Construction Industry experiences more mental health issues for other reasons too.
Far From Home and Psychological Support
The statistics for construction reveal that this industry fares far worse than the national average. Employees may work a long way from home, away from their family and friends and without the support, routines and intimacy that help to dissolve stress and tension at the end of each day. Working hours may extend to 15 hours per day for extended periods of time and, most crucially, in the absence of skilled and compassionate management support.
“I think the fact construction is a male-dominated industry highlights male-related issues,” says Bam Nuttall CEO Steve Fox. “Men don’t talk about this stuff at all. One of the big things we need to do is to make it safe for people to talk about mental health.”
Stopping the Stigma
The survey reveals a poor understanding of mental health vulnerabilities and a lack of interest and sympathy among managers. 83% report there not being enough awareness and 82% identifying stigma as a problem. Sharing information with colleagues and managers about experiences of deteriorating mental health was identified as weak.
“We can’t underestimate the impact of stigma around suicide or mental health conditions,” says Dr Cole-King. “It can almost be described as a life-limiting condition. It stops people from admitting to themselves that they are struggling and stops people around them from asking if they are OK.”
Daring To Ask the Right Questions
Having the confidence and skill to ask for help or even for colleagues to ask how they might help will make all the difference to the outcome of our collective mental health. Proactively encouraging employees to ask the relevant questions in an appropriate tone, based on a good understanding of how the mind works when under stress, will contribute to weakening the very stigma that’s been identified as part of the problem.
Lack of Manager Support
How can businesses create the working environment that enables employees to talk openly about what they’re experiencing and how it’s affecting their ability to perform?
This report reveals that typically male-dominated sectors like construction are less likely to speak up and seek support if they’re struggling with their mental health.
Lack of support from line-managers was identified as a problem. Only one in four of the respondents said they were happy with the support given by their line manager when they were struggling with their mental health. Symptoms of diminishing mental health are slow to develop and offer plenty of opportunity to respond to the warning signs.
Taking an Interest in Colleague’s Wellbeing
Were managers to express an interest in their team’s psychological wellbeing, they would easily identify common indicators of stress behaviours getting in the way of performance and thriving business development. It can be as simple as giving line-managers the information and tools to respond with a warm encouraging approach before crisis-point hits.
By learning the appropriate inter-personal skills associated with trust and team development, managers would feel less fearful of asking questions about a colleague’s health and psychological wellbeing.
Wellbeing development training gives managers the bite-sized tools to start these conversations, while giving them the chance to develop their own self-awareness around managing stress.
Good Business Sense
Businesses need to tackle mental health in the workplace for commercial reasons, too – it’s not purely altruistic. There are serious business costs to not addressing mental health and employee wellbeing, which tend to outweigh the costs of training and management coaching.
Time Lost Versus Training Investment
Businesses need to measure the benefits of investing in training against the time and productivity lost due to poor mental health. If you give everyone a day out to receive training to build awareness and develop communication skills to help foster a culture of openness it would probably total less than the time and productivity lost due to poor mental health issues.
Skanska’s Mr Craig agrees it makes good business sense. “At a basic level, this shows the amount of time lost to a company because someone has a problem. Reducing that time off is going to be a very obvious benefit to the business.”
Pledge To Better Mental Health for All
ISG chief executive Paul Cossell says construction needs to tackle the issue to help address the skills shortage. “If we want to attract and retain the best people, then promoting greater awareness, ensuring a healthy work-life balance and removing the stigma of mental health issues is a pledge we should all sign up to,” he says
Taking Steps Towards Psychological Wellbeing
Initiatives to tackle the issue are gathering momentum. Businesses are training staff to learn mental health first aid, so that they know what to do when they spot the signs. They are exploring the value of investing in communication skills training so that the managers know how to start conversations about how their team are feeling and exercise the skills to offer confidential and well informed guidance on options for psychological support and wellbeing services.
“As an industry we have a duty to look after those we work with, and that should focus as much on their mental as their physical wellbeing. This research helps build the case for us to work together as an industry to tackle the issue of mental health, as it is clear the problems are widespread and cannot be ignored,” said one survey respondent.
Mental Health Training for Managers
Namasté Culture has created a wellbeing training programme that touches on all aspects of the manager’s role and related conversations about leading teams, managing performance and psychological wellbeing. Mental Health promotion is at the core of our skills development approach to training, acknowledging that our feelings, health and wellbeing have an immediate impact on how we carry out our work.
Learning by Doing
We learn how to have effective conversations about our health and wellbeing by practising those conversations, which is exactly what we do on our training programmes. Pooling our experience and knowledge we learn from each other, while the leader steers, encourages and commends.
“If you’re interested in understanding how people work rather than just quoting management talk, then this course is for you”, said an Operations Managers who is a recent graduate of our management development programme.
Free Taster Workshops
You’re invited to join one of our occasional free workshops that give you a flavour of how wellbeing training can help you to take a strategic approach to promoting mental health in your workplace, based on a sound business case for investing in people.