The construction industry can pave the way for better mental health support

The construction industry can pave the way for better mental health support

The writer is group chairman and managing director of Mace

It’s no secret that the construction industry faces a significant mental health issue. The statistics, especially those related to suicide, are both shocking and well documented.

People working in the construction industry in the UK are three times more likely to commit suicide than those in other sectors. This is a terrifying statistic that the industry has grappled with for several years.

With mental health issues becoming more common and growing economic challenges likely to affect the industry, we can’t afford to lose sight – we need to take a radical approach.

The mental health challenge in the construction industry can be attributed to several factors, including working alone, unsociable hours, and work pressures.

But the main thing is gender. The industry is still a male-dominated environment, especially on construction sites, and men are generally not very good at being open about their feelings and problems.

We know that talking about mental health is half the battle, and if a problem isn’t shared, it isn’t halved — rather, it gets worse.

Unfortunately, we have had a few cases in recent years where someone directly employed by Mace or one of our contractors has committed suicide. It is extremely traumatic for the entire project team. Construction sites have very close teams, so everyone is extremely touched when a member is lost in such tragic circumstances. It is difficult to put into words what I feel, as a general manager, in such moments. A deep sense of loss is behind our continued efforts to prevent such a tragedy from happening again in the future.

Over the past five years, the entire industry has opened up about mental health, but we still have a long way to go.

Challenging conformity to stereotypes that have existed for decades doesn’t happen overnight and doesn’t get resolved just because a CEO or HR manager says it’s “important that we talk any further “. Culture change is a slow and steady, and often complex, process.

It has to start at the top, but it’s the people on the ground who give it meaning and bring it to life. At Mace, we’ve worked hard to transform the perception of a corporate initiative into something that empowers colleagues at all levels.

As a result, we saw some great initiatives led by teams around the world, such as site interviews and coffee breaks with the charity Mates in Mind. We recently hosted The Lions Barbers, a not-for-profit collective, at one of our sites in London. The barbers offer “haircuts and headspace” and are all trained in mental health support, known as BarberTalk.

We are still on the way, but the commitment has been overwhelming and the results promising. Over the past five years, the number of people who say they are happy to discuss a mental health issue with their supervisor has increased from 59% to 88%, according to our annual employee survey.

Everyone has the right to work in a safe and healthy environment. Therefore, as business leaders, we need to view mental health as a growing business risk the same way we view other risks.

Beyond the moral argument, the financial cost of mental health to businesses is significant. With longer recovery times than physical illnesses, poor mental health is said to cost UK employers £56billion a year.

Industries shouldn’t wait for things to boil over and just head to support services. Yes, we must provide support to those who need it, but we must continue to invest in preventive measures, such as the design of workspaces, working methods, behaviors, leadership training. We need to invest in the tools that allow people to stay well at work and prevent our workers from reaching crisis point.

The advent of ESG (environmental, social and governance) investment strategies justifies placing well-being at the center of all business plans and decisions, and integrating social objectives into the culture of a company. company. At Mace, we’re working hard to become the most inclusive employer in our industry over the next few years, and that means addressing a variety of factors that enable people to be themselves and, therefore, to have more good days at work. .

It is the duty of large organizations to take the lead and provide support, guidance and partnership to smaller organizations that lack the resources to deal with what is a spiraling pandemic across all industries.

In 2019, we first worked with our supply chain to understand the drivers of wellbeing. As a large collaborative project, we were able to identify collective issues, share knowledge and provide support to address more local challenges.

Over 4,000 people took part in the survey – the largest set of wellness data collected in the construction industry – giving us the most compelling case for change and a plan of action detailed.

This includes tackling the main triggers of poor mental health head-on, getting people to open up and feel that it is completely normal and acceptable to talk about issues such as financial worries, family problems, addictions and loneliness.

Collaboration is the answer in more ways than one. The first action every organization should take is to work with employees to understand the triggers of poor mental health for different groups and develop tailored solutions. The key is to create an environment where people can be themselves at work and express themselves, and where our workplaces, practices and behaviors mitigate psychological risks.

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