Julie Lock, commercial director at Mitrefinch, explains how poor management in the construction industry is leading to stress-related sick leave and offers solutions for how employers can help to support their staff
A 2018 study conducted by AXA revealed that the construction industry is the third most-stressed sector in the UK.
The research showed that 82% of the workers in building and construction experienced stress at work and it was having a significant impact on their lives outside of the workplace too. In some cases, stress is so severe that it is preventing employees from sleeping at night.
Workers are unable to switch off once a shift ends, with 65% waiting to be contacted outside of working hours; half of staff feeling anxious about their salary and 36% about redundancy. Sadly, these statistics on stress are likely to have been worsened by the pandemic.
MetLife revealed that 69% of workers felt their employer’s behaviour had a negative impact on their stress levels and stress accounted for 40% of all work-related sickness.
This research demonstrates that a significant number of workers have a poor relationship with their employers and stress among staff was allowed to reach a dangerous level (without intervention from management) to warrant time off work.
Stress can impact anyone and if left untreated, it can lead to a range of more serious illnesses such as depression, anxiety and heart disease. Not only do these mental and physiological illnesses harm the individual but can also have financial and moral implications for the company.
Stress must be monitored alongside wider mental health and wellbeing concerns. However, 56% of employees in construction claim to have struggled with their mental health and, more worryingly, two-thirds of those have never communicated this to their employer; exposing deeper issues around mental health conversations in the workplace.
Acknowledging stress and offering mental health support
Construction is a male-dominated industry, which only adds to the existing stigma attached to mental health.
According to the Construction Industry Training Board, women account for 9% of the workforce. The gender divide in this industry is significant because of the current mental health and suicide crisis among men in the UK.
Published results by the Mental Health Foundation claim that only one in four men who have experienced high levels of stress go on to speak about it with a friend or family member.
For construction firms to see a positive change in employees and stress-related sick leave, acknowledging stress and offering mental health support for all staff is a necessary first step.
Mark Rowlan, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, commented on the societal and organisational changes that are required to tackle the mental health stigma: “We need to address how men… are expected to cope when they feel under pressure.
“We all have the responsibility to shift the culture and talk to the men in our lives.”
Men were also more likely to try and hide the extent of their stress, either directly by not talking about it or indirectly by falling on alcohol as a means to cope.
Therefore, management that investigates any (early) suspicions of alcohol abuse or lifestyle changes among staff, and then aims to identify and tackle the root cause of the stress is more productive long-term.
The barriers that prevent staff from talking about mental ill-health at work could include feelings of embarrassment, the belief that their boss is unable to help or the fear that it might negatively impact their career, and it falls on management to offer reassurance.
Shifting the stigma around mental health at management level will not only improve relationships among staff but also provide a much-needed outlet for men in particular to talk about their mental health and wellbeing in a safe environment.
To improve employee relations, it is crucial for management to empathise with every individual who is experiencing high levels of stress. Here are a few more practical tips that can be implemented by construction firms almost immediately to tackle the stigma around mental health in the industry.
It has been revealed that one in four employees are yet to engage in any form of mental health check-in during the pandemic, and so a casual and regular one-to-one meeting is a quick and effective way to track stress among staff.
Every employee will deal with stress differently and have triggers that are unique to them; one-to-ones provide the opportunity for both open communication and privacy.
Regular performance reviews with constructive feedback are an additional way to help manage staff workload, monitor individual progress and ensure that no one is feeling overwhelmed.
Another way to lower company stress levels is for management to encourage their staff to take regular breaks and holidays, as well as organising work social events (Coronavirus permitting) to build on staff morale, as opposed to pressuring them to work overtime.
To help create a workplace culture that is more aware and equipped to deal with mental health, it would also be beneficial for management to enrol in mental health training and qualify a MHFAE-trained instructor.
Taking these steps to improve management relationships in the construction industry will not only tackle the stigma attached to stress but also help to relieve the cause of it.
By positioning the wellbeing of staff as a priority in construction firms, it will support those who are struggling with mental illnesses, reduce stress-related sick leave and, ultimately, improve the success of business.
+44 (0)330 726 0066
LinkedIn: mitrefinch ltd
YouTube: mitrefinch ltd