Sector - Health

Preserving Mental Health While Furloughed

Adrian Attwood, Executive Director at DBR Ltd., discusses the need for enhanced mental health protection in the construction industry.

Some of those worst affected by the pandemic have been construction professionals. Not only has the industry itself taken a hard hit, but the mental health of those who had to continue working despite fears of the virus, were furloughed or made redundant, suffered greatly too.

In fact, these fears persist six months post lockdown. Those able to return to work dread crowded public transport and potentially being involved in projects with limited opportunity for social distancing.

It’s the primary duty of construction companies as employers to protect both the physical and mental health of their employees during this difficult time and beyond. With the UK entering a second wave of the virus, this means implementing even stricter health and safety measures, and checking in with those who remain furloughed or working from home.

Fears surrounding furlough

Due to the uncertainty of COVID-19, there has been an overall fear of the unknown. It’s been a difficult time for the industry to predict not only the short-term impact of the pandemic, but how it will affect business in the future.

While the coronavirus pandemic has been tough on those working from the office or on site throughout, it has not exactly been easy for furloughed staff.

It has also been difficult for furloughed workers, as it was hard to judge at start of the pandemic where restrictions and lockdown rules would apply and how projects could continue.

Being furloughed may have initially been somewhat of a welcome respite for those who found they could spend more time on their hobbies and with their loved ones, however, as weeks turned into months, the fear of possibly losing their jobs began to set in.

Of course, the furlough scheme is important to ease financial strains, but an ever-present sense of anxiety exists among employees regarding when things will return to normal. This is set to become even more acute with the programme set to enter its final month in October.

Getting back to work

There has been a certain feeling of relief among members of staff who are going back to work. However, with the UK in recession and a second wave of the virus looming large, employers continue to tread cautiously, especially in an industry that involves regular close contact.

It’s essential that contractors and suppliers adhere to government guidelines regarding a safe working environment. This means keeping staff socially distanced from one another and providing a plentiful amount of hand sanitiser in offices and work sites as well as enough reliable PPE.

Employers also need to consistently touch base with their staff, whether they are at the office, on site or at home, and make sure all their physical and mental health needs are being addressed. For instance, at DBR, we regularly check in with all of our employees and hold socially distanced, in-person training sessions and team catch-ups.

For those members of our team who would prefer to speak to someone anonymously, we have an employee support scheme, allowing them to reach out to an independent third party for any help they may need. We also have two in-house Mental Health First Aiders who are available to discuss employees’ concerns and overall wellbeing.

We are grateful to have found ourselves in a good place to adjust our procedures and tweak them to suit the rules surrounding COVID-19. We’ve even managed to negotiate reduced numbers of workers on site with our clients. In terms of our project managers and senior executives, not having to rush to meetings or project locations on the other side of the city has helped to curb anxiety and has given us more time to complete work remotely.

A healthy frame of mind

The construction industry is accustomed to placing focus on physical safety. It’s an industry filled with risk but one of the most rewarding, as every project, no matter the size, can make such a large difference in people’s lives.

Construction workers provide shelter, create places of worship, build schools and restore national landmarks, so it’s necessary that they are provided with the care that they deserve. An already high-pressure job, filled with deadlines and a need for incredible attention to detail, it’s critical that professionals in this sector are listened to and kept physically and mentally safe, for the sake of their health and the success of the company.

Whether employees are going back to the office, are working from home or remain furloughed, there needs to be a system in place to ensure they receive the tools and support required for best performance and mental wellbeing.

This is something especially important now but which also needs to remain in place long after the pandemic. COVID-19 has made us acutely aware of the various health needs of those around us, and has shown just how vital mental wellness is.

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