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Mental Health in Construction - Why it matters

Tags: blog, Construction & Property

It’s Mental Health Awareness week, and once again Search is raising awareness about the importance of supporting mental health in the workplace.

We conducted some Mental Health Index research of employees and employers across a range of sectors to determine how mental health is managed in the workplace. Our results revealed that there are issues within the sector, particularly as the affects of this year start to take hold.

For this reason, we take a close look at the results of our survey, and highlight how employers can create a culture of acceptance to support mental health within this sector.

In this report, we present our results from surveying those working within Construction. Respondents covered a range of roles with many being labourers, project managers, cleaners, and machine operators

Employment status

Despite many sites shutting down during lockdown, 63% reported that they had worked continuously over the last 6 months with only 8% having been furloughed.

19% told us they were unemployed and 10% had recently been made redundant, representing close to a third of the construction workforce.

Happiness at work

Respondents were then asked to rate their happiness with their current working life or employment status and with the level of support shown to them by their employers in regard to the mental health and wellbeing. Scores were provided on a sliding scale of 10 with 10 being most happy.

The results pointed to a sector rooted in moderate levels of happiness. On current working life/employment status, the average score was 4.8/10 and on quality of support shown by employers, the average was 4.2/10.

The quality of support offered by employers was also explored at a more granular level with respondents being asked whether they agreed they are/were supported by their employer in relation to their mental health.

The results show that most (42%) were neutral on the issue with 25% feeling supported and 33% disagreeing with the statement.

Mental health

The survey then moved to mental health specifically with 58% of respondents reporting that they had experienced poor mental health in the last 6 months. This represents a lower number than other sectors despite construction experiencing a higher unemployment rate. The extent to which admitting to mental health problems remains largely taboo in male-dominated environments should therefore be considered as a factor for this incongruous result.

Work/job status played a factor amongst those reporting poor mental health with 25% of respondents identifying it as a significant role.

When presented with a range of triggers for poor mental health, respondents identified stress, financial concerns, and Covid-19 as the top 3. Social media, workplace bullying, and health problems ranked the lowest.

Top tips to support mental health in Construction

Putting mental wellbeing at the forefront of a company’s culture is no easy feat, but there are steps that employers can take to better equip managers with the theoretical and practical training needed to manage employees who may be experiencing poor mental health. Here, we list our top five:

1. Support swift and early access to medical intervention

It’s vitally important that employers support employees who may be suffering from mental health problems in immediately and swiftly accessing medical services needed to diagnose and provide treatment. Not only will early medical intervention enable your staff return to work sooner, but with the right support, mentally ill employees can also return to the same or better performance. Remember to appropriately keep in touch with your employee who may be taking time off due to mental illness, because failure to do so may cause them to feel alienated from the business.

2. Provide mental health first aid and unconscious bias training

Many employees are promoted into management positions because of their technical skills and ability, but without training, they will not necessarily have the right people management and communication skills to be able to deal with mental health issues in an empathetic and supportive manner. Employers should equip their line managers with comprehensive mental health first aid training to help them spot the signs of mental illness eary on, and enable them to have clear and open discussions with employees about their mental health. Furthermore, line managers and employees should receive unconscious bias training which addresses outdated unhelpful definitions of weakness and strength.

3. Set and implement HR policies which take mental health into account

It is crucial for HR to ensure that all of its policies work together and take account of the impact of certain work issues on mental health; for example redundancy policies should provide for mental health after care. The following policies should reference mental health: anti-bullying and anti-harassment, performance management, disciplinary, change management, equality, diversity and inclusion. Subconscious bias training is also important to ensure that policies are not applied inconsistently by different managers with their own potential subconscious bias about employees with mental health issues.

4. Facilitate an open and supportive culture of communication

It is the responsibility of employers to promote an open and supportive culture, where line managers have regular one-to-one catch ups with their staff to determine their state of mental health and whether any reasonable adjustments need to be made to working conditions or activities. Doing so will allow employees to feel that they are able to be authentic and bring their ‘whole self’ to work, rather than pretend to be someone that they’re not, in order to conform and fit in.

5. It's a WRAP

Wellness Recovery Action/Assistance Programmes (WRAP) are instrumental in allowing the employee and employer to sit down together and have an open discussion about mental health, after which both parties can draw up a document which clearly lays out the employee’s workplace triggers for poor mental ill-heath and the symptoms to look for. Managers and employees will also be able to form a strategy, whereby the employee can receive the support they require from their employer, as well as the key people to contact in a crisis.

What are you doing to support mental health in your workplace?

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