We are each other’s guardian in preventing workplace mental health issues.
World Mental Health Day takes place on 10th October. This year’s theme, set by the World Foundation of Mental Health, delivers the message that ‘mental health is a universal human right’.
Key to the Mental Health Foundation’s campaign is a Tea and Talk initiative. Meeting with family, friends or colleagues is cited as important to inspiring a sense of contentment. Hence, Tea and Talk is not only an excuse to spend quality time with others, but also designed to raise awareness and funds for the Mental Health Foundation. However, for those working in construction, there is a particular need to look out for the mental wellbeing of colleagues.
Construction remains one of the most stressful sectors. This is barely surprising, as the work is physical and often involves the use of heavy, potentially dangerous machinery in noisy, congested spaces. Pre-pandemic research conducted by the Stress Management Society found that four-in-five construction workers admitted to feeling stressed at some point during a typical working week.
Stress is not limited to those working on site, supply chain staff at all levels of the building supply chain will have doubtless faced increased pressure from contractors, manufacturers and customers. But mental wellbeing in construction continues to mainly focus on those on the metaphorical frontline. There are some alarming figures to support that stance. A 2021 CITB report: ‘Mental Health and Construction: A Coordinated Approach’, revealed that suicides often killed more workers than falls from height. Figures also showed suicide risk among some site based male construction employees to be three times the national average.
However, the same report concluded that post-pandemic, ‘positive wellbeing developments’ had taken root across the building industry. These included new working practices and learning, flexible working hours, fewer staff on site and improved hygiene. These, the report stated, had ‘contributed to an atmosphere conducive to improved personal wellbeing’.
As the CITB report maintains, the building industry needs to accelerate improvements in mental health matters to truly get to grips with the issue. A positive step in this regard is construction-based companies developing their own initiatives to safeguard employee wellbeing.
Stuart Russell, Commercial Manager at CPI, said “‘At CPI, we have introduced ‘Start the Conversation’ training, where all staff members are encouraged to think and talk about good mental health. We also have mental health first aiders at each of our locations. Staff members allocated to the role have undergone the Mental Health First Aid course to better assist their colleagues in managing mind-related issues and signposting towards professional support.”
As individuals, we can each do our bit to improve on-and-off-site health and safety. As revealed by the Construction Financial Management Association, there are a number of signs to look for that indicate stress amongst colleagues. They include:
- Increased lateness, absenteeism and presenteeism (attending work but not being able to function)
- Decreased productivity due to distraction and cognitive slowing
- Lack of self-confidence
- Isolation from peers
- Agitation and increased interpersonal conflict among co-workers
- Increased voluntary and involuntary attrition
- Increased feelings of being overwhelmed
- Decreased problem-solving ability.
Whether it’s due to construction being a mostly male domain – a long-standing gender imbalance that is fortunately being addressed – workplace tradition has been to internalise stress for fear of ridicule or drawing unwanted attention to matters of a personal nature. Initiatives like the Mental Health Foundation’s Tea and Talk help us to realise that a burden shared is a burden halved and no one, no matter what the environment, should feel they are suffering alone.
On site or in the office, we are each other’s guardian. There should be no barriers to open, honest discussion about our feelings, good and bad. Because sometimes, ‘letting it all out’ can prevent deeper, darker thoughts sinking in.
For more information on Tea and Talk and World Mental Health Day, visit: www.mentalhealth.org.uk/our-work/public-engagement/world-mental-health-day.
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