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Destigmatising mental health in construction

What is mental health and why is it getting such a focus at the moment?

Mental health is a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional wellbeing.

Mental health issues affect one in four people at some point in their lifetime. With construction employing around 2.4m people, that’s potentially a huge number of industry workers affected.

What do they look like, these people with mental health issues? Can we spot them? Are the numbers going up or down?

The reason we’re all talking about mental health is that the allocation of budgets in the NHS is skewed towards dealing with physical, visible injuries. It is easier to see a deep cut or a broken bone than to see a chemical reaction causing certain kinds of disturbance, or the depression caused by repeated lifetime challenges.

But the impact of mental health can be just as destructive to business performance and team working, as the obvious accidents and illnesses that we more regularly register and calculate.

“The impact of mental health can be just as destructive to business performance and team working as the obvious accidents and illnesses”

The campaigners for mental health have been talking about this for a long time, but this year the issues of wellbeing and mindfulness have started to be more openly discussed.

Even David Cameron and his ‘Big Society’ reinforces many of the structures that can support and reinforce positive conditions to help us in today’s complex and challenging world. At a time of national budget challenges, the correct allocation of resources means that we must be aware of the issues, or the important rebalancing we have begun to achieve will be lost.

So who are the one in four in your team? What kind of issues are they struggling with and what do you and your business plan to do about it?

No place for macho culture

James Pellatt of GPE commented recently in CN that the construction industry has a macho culture and that the “hidden pressures” of the industry have left people “mentally drained” are all too easily ignored by clients and firms alike.

Too often, we just expect people to “work through this”. Not an approach we would take today on physical health and safety issues, but it wasn’t that long ago that we would have done.

The Mental Health Foundation produced a great little guide to look after the mental health of your teams.

Ten easy tips to apply which will help reduce any macho or ignorant behaviour. It’s not just about the supposed soft, touchy-feely stuff either; it’s also about eating right, drinking in moderation, staying fit, keeping in touch with friends and family, feeling valued, taking breaks from work, being comfortable with who you are and if you are worried, having the gumption or strength to talk to somebody.

“We are, as an industry, poor at talking about what worries us”

Men are generally portrayed as being less comfortable with talking about how the feel. The construction industry, much to its shame, is significantly male dominant. So guess what? We are, as an industry, poor at talking about what worries us.

The result is often teams that don’t work, and sickness and health issues which can spring up at high pressure projects; when people managers concentrate on technical delivery and fail to do their jobs of managing people.

More females would help us get better answers, but also better results. When was the last time a client objected to one of your team because it was all male? When were any potential mental health issues on a long duration project the subject of a prequalification interview?

Going the extra mile

At Simons, we challenge everyone to be more aware of their mental health. Our employee engagement survey earlier in the year saw great results, but we have a duty to make sure our workforce feel happy and healthy, as well as that.

Earlier this month we hosted a Wellbeing Day to recognise World Mental Health Day, which saw our workforce offered exercise workshops, nutritional guidance, health insurance advice, full body MOTs and introductions to neighbouring community activities.

The response was overwhelming and we hope to see employees regularly discussing this at work, along with making sure we do our bit to encourage even more to start taking care from within.

James Pellatt has the right ideas. It will be great to see the projects he is delivering in central London become beacons for changing the behaviour and practices of high pressure projects, as well as delivering fantastic physical buildings.

Paul Hodgkinson is executive chairman of the Simons Group

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