Prioritising mental wellbeing in construction will save lives

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mental wellbeing in construction
© Stevanovicigor

According to research launched in 2020 by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), men in the construction industry are three times more likely to commit suicide than those in other sectors, and so prioritising mental wellbeing in construction will save lives

There are typically two factors that cause ill mental health: lack of awareness and lack of resources. Without open discussions surrounding mental health, some may not know they are suffering from a mental condition such as anxiety or depression. And those that do know, often don’t have the money to spend on treatment.

If all employers began to prioritise mental wellbeing in construction, the current mental health crisis could be significantly improved. Through both interventive care, such as therapy, as well as preventative care, like guided meditations and life coaching, rates of anxiety and depression would begin to fall. Given the opportunity to continuously work on and prioritise their mental health, we’d start to see healthier, happier, and more productive construction teams.

The pandemic may have exacerbated the mental health crisis

CIOB’s research was conducted in 2019, just before the pandemic, and now, so much has changed. It found 87% of respondents had experienced anxiety and 70% depression, so since repeated lockdowns, isolations, and job insecurity caused by COVID-19, rates could be much higher and instances of conditions more regular.

Some may have experienced near-on immediate mental health conditions related to the changes COVID-19 brought upon the world. While others may only now be recognising the effects of two years of turbulent change on their mind and body, with symptoms such as burnout and fatigue.

People can almost unanimously agree that living through such an event changed them. The second anniversary poses the opportunity for organisations to recognise the experiences of their employees and take action.

Why should employers prioritise mental wellbeing in construction?

So, why should the positive mental wellbeing of construction staff be a priority? The answer is threefold: genuine care for your team, absenteeism, and productivity.

Care

Early morning visits and long days on-site can mean employees spend most of their waking days at work. If that environment isn’t a caring one, over time, it could negatively impact a person’s general mood and self-esteem, resulting in mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression.

Good work culture can be created without mental health support, however, by offering complementary care, you can truly show your employees you care about them. Feeling appreciated and valued, in turn, leads to better work satisfaction and ultimately better performance at work.

Absenteeism

If someone is experiencing a mental health condition, they may need time off work, often suddenly and sometimes for long periods at a time. When you reach a point of distress with your mental wellbeing, time off work can sometimes be the only option for recovery – either you are so unwell you cannot get out to work, or you need to dedicate time to work on getting better.

Absenteeism is, however, costly for a business. The price of an employee taking a month off work, or multiple instances throughout the year, will typically be much more than the cost of offering mental wellbeing care that helps prevent the illness from developing – and can cost as little as £4 per employee, per month, from many online holistic platforms.

Taking on the workload of a missing member can take a toll on a colleague’s mental wellbeing too, ultimately leading to more instances of burnout and anxiety in the workplace, creating a vicious cycle of absenteeism and mental health conditions between staff.

Productivity

On the other hand, if someone is unwell but continues to work, their productivity will likely begin to wane. If you are experiencing low moods or feeling anxious, it can be hard to focus – you might find your mind flitting from task to task, unable to concentrate. Similarly, you may be experiencing feelings of self-consciousness, or simply be uninterested in speaking, which could impact your contributions in work meetings.

Reduced productivity will slowly start to negatively impact the business, especially if multiple employees are suffering from conditions – which CIOB’s research suggests is the case. By providing support, you can arm your employees with the mental wellbeing practices they need to protect and/or restore their mental wellbeing, in turn, boosting productivity.

Mental health exists on a spectrum whereby every single employee has unique needs

Once you decide to offer mental care, it is important to recognise that every single employee has unique needs. You might find that morning guided meditations hugely improve some people’s outlook, while someone else might enjoy moments of mindfulness throughout the day.

Though 87% of respondents on the CIOB survey reported anxiety and 70% depression, that does not mean each of those respondents feel the same way. Symptoms present differently in different people, and moreover, each condition has its own spectrum.

Treatments will vary depending on the person, and in one individual’s lifetime, they too may need a wide range of wellbeing services at different points. Speaking with a life coach, working on goals, and setting habits might work for one employee, whereas, for those that experience difficult days more regularly, interventive care, such as time off, regular therapy, or even medication, is vital.

38% of CIOB’s survey said their company offered a mental health helpline, 35% said they had a mental health first aider, and 50% said their organisation had a policy in place. Though these are all great initiatives, without any other services offered, a crucial element of mental health support is being missed – preventative care. The number of people in construction experiencing suicidal thoughts, depression, or anxiety will never decrease if nothing is done to stop the conditions from occurring in the first place.

Preventative mental wellbeing services can reduce the number of workers reaching tipping point

Normally, it’s only once a person notices poor mental health that they reach out for help. Before this point, they may never have actively worked on their mental wellbeing.

For this example, imagine it in the context of physical health – it’s important to note mental and physical health are inextricably linked, and considering them as separate entities in other instances is typically not advisable. If you regularly eat unhealthy, processed foods and rarely exercise, most people are aware that eventually, they will feel the effects of their lifestyle on their physical health.

However, with mental wellbeing, many people are unaware that their lifestyle is ‘unhealthy.’ Long days on-site, working through lunch breaks, stress-fuelled days, and even hours spent scrolling on your phone, can leave you with no time to spend on yourself, and this will impact your health over time.

So, take the same approach to your physical health as your mental health. Take time in your day to work on your mind: moments of mindfulness, guided meditations, journaling, and yoga are just some examples.

Therapy tends to be seen as a treatment for mental health conditions, but it is just as much an outlet for preventing them too. Therapy doesn’t have to mean one-on-one calls or in-person meetings, it can also be via a chat, which may feel less intense and more accessible and familiar. And if you don’t fancy therapy, that’s not the only ‘talking’ care out there – you can reach out to a life coach or a mentor.

Over time, preventative care will reduce the number of workers in the construction industry reaching that critical tipping point. As the rates of mental wellbeing services in the industry increase, the number of mental health conditions will begin to fall.

Daily healthy habits can be small changes but with a big impact

If you want to introduce preventative mental wellbeing care into your daily life, there are several ways to do this:

– Daily guided meditations, available on paid and free apps, websites, podcasts, or YouTube.

– Journaling, you can purchase guided journals, or simply note down entries each day, using prompts if you like. Some examples of good prompts include:

  • How am I feeling today? (Using emojis along a rating scale is always a good idea)
  • What do I feel grateful for today?
  • What has made me feel happiest today, or over the last week/month?
  • What has upset me most today or over the last week/month?
  • What have I achieved today, or this week/month, that I feel proud of?

These are just suggestions that can be used to guide the journaling process, you can write as much or little as you like, depending on how you are feeling on any given day.

– Practice mindfulness throughout the day, take a moment to leave what you are working on, and just be in the present. Let your thoughts drift in and out, try staring out the window with no real focus just letting your mind wander. Both green and blue spaces (aquatic environments) produce well-being benefits, so where possible get outside and connected to nature.

And don’t dismiss these. Even if you initially doubt its effectiveness, make a promise to yourself to make it a daily habit for a month. And by the end of that month, it’ll become six months, then a year, and before you know it, you will barely notice it – like drinking water or brushing your teeth.

Act now to make simple changes with life-changing impacts

The construction industry cannot continue avoiding the mental health crisis: mental wellbeing in construction must be addressed. Two years on from COVID-19, rates will tragically, but undoubtedly, be even higher than those recorded in the CIOB’s research. Mental health conditions are spiralling, and if nothing changes, rates of absenteeism will rocket while productivity crashes, eventually costing your business.

Put your people first. They are the heart of your company and the reason your organisation delivers the results it does: if their health is compromised, your businesses will be too.

 

Ashley Lourens

head of wellbeing

Plumm

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