Features - Business

Mental health in growing construction firms

Some 350,000 construction workers will suffer from severe mental health issues this year, and the industry will likely see over double the national average of suicides.

Lee Bignell, founder and MD of integrated services contractor Mobius Works, explains why more employers need to look at investing heavily in prevention schemes to combat this growing problem within construction.

Attempting to understand the reasons for mental illness, and associated rates of suicide, is complex. No brain is wired the same therefore, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. However, poor mental health is often the result of a combination of influences. Construction can be a lonely place to work, with many employees working alone for long hours but sadly, it can also be incredibly isolating even when surrounded by colleagues.

I love construction and take my responsibilities towards my team, both as colleagues and individuals, very seriously but, no matter how much I, or any other employer, adores the job, if we ignore the issues in our industry, there will be no industry left. Men working in manual trades, particularly construction, are three times more likely to commit suicide than the national average; closely followed by those working in finishing trades, such as plasterers, painters and decorators, whose risk is twice the national average.

There has never been a more pressing time to implement workplace mental health tools and schemes. Each and every part of our industry can help, whether that’s leaders of businesses driving local or industry initiatives, or individuals encouraging us all to look out for each other, listen, share experiences and help stamp out outdated stigmas.

I don’t have all the answers, but I have the passion to work alongside others to make a difference. These are three key initiatives Mobius Works is championing in 2020, which we invite our industry, and others, to explore:

1) Mental health checks in appraisals
Staff appraisals are a key part to any business, allowing you to check in on your employees, their performance and their progression. However, excelling or struggling in the workplace is usually interlinked with wellbeing.

This year, we have introduced mental health checks into our appraisal process. There’s no point reviewing an employee, setting objectives and sending them away; this should be the time to sit with them and talk through their feelings, thoughts and needs in an open discussion, building upon good times and guiding through any difficulties. These mental health appraisals are also structured differently to our usual reviews, they aren’t only once every six months, we ensure we are ready to talk with any employee as little or as often as they need.

2) Mental health “toolboxes”
There are many businesses out there that specialise in equipping teams with the tools, skills and methods they need in order to build resilience and understanding around mental health.

One company we have worked with, Bristol-based Discover Your Bounce, run workshops to support the Mobius Works team with the following:
• Wellbeing and resilience training for office staff
• An emotional intelligence ‘Lunch and Learn’ for better communication
• Mental health awareness toolbox talks
• Manager training on how to support staff with their mental health
• Email support for individual staff members

These workshops not only help staff with practical wellbeing like improving sleep and reducing stress, they also encourage a culture of open communication and positive conversations, a key bridge into building a secure foundation for a healthy working environment.

3) Fundraisers and campaigns
Engaging in events, awareness days and fundraisers are a fantastic way to boost team morale, and there is an abundance of campaigns around the UK from a multitude of charities which businesses can get involved in.

Good mental health doesn’t only come from doing things for yourself, many people identify that positive wellbeing has a link with doing something good for someone else. Activities such as fun-runs, marathons and bake sales not only help to raise money for amazing causes but also allow employees to take part in feel-good enterprises that lift spirits.

For example, this year we are working with our partner charity, Bristol-based Empire Fighting Chance, aiming to raise £10,000 in ten events. Ranging from skydives to quizzes to runs, we’re spending from now through until December working together and working hard for a simply amazing cause, helping those who are less fortunate and who require our upmost love and support.

What’s important is that no matter what businesses do, big initiatives or small steps, every movement towards better mental health in the construction industry, and beyond, is a step in the right direction. So, keep talking, keep sharing and keep going. Share your positives internally and externally and shout about those little wins.

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