Practical steps to support employee mental health in the construction industry
Construction industry workers are three times more likely to commit suicide than the average UK male. Companies can help by putting wellbeing centre stage, says Sally Orton, HR manager at surface repair and restoration specialist Plastic Surgeon
With male site workers in construction being three times more likely to commit suicide than the average UK male, actions must be taken to help prevent the deterioration of mental health in the construction sector to, ultimately, save lives.
Companies should have employee wellbeing at the forefront of their business practices and there are plenty of initiatives that can be used to ensure a healthy work culture is created, encouraging an environment where interaction is fostered, and help is sought.
At Plastic Surgeon, employee-focused initiatives are at the heart of our company culture to ensure all staff are aware of the various methods of help available to them, during and outside of work hours.
Below are some of the effective practices used by the company, and the reasons why they should be rolled out across fellow businesses operating in the construction sector.
Employee assistance programme
The philosophy of the company is to support employees without them feeling they have to disclose everything directly to a manager or team leader. The firm partnered with Health Assured to supply an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), a free 24/7 phone service whereby employees can share any concerns over their state of mental health. The EAP also comes in the form of an app, which staff can download and login to access all kinds of support and advice, including short wellbeing webinars on topics such as resilience.
The NHS waiting list for mental health counselling is 26 weeks, but with the EAP an employee can talk to someone within a day or two. They know they will receive help almost immediately after seeking it.
Another benefit of the EAP is that it’s not just available to the employee, but anyone who lives with the employee as well. So, a partner, or indeed any member of the family, can also access relevant resources, which is an extra avenue of providing the necessary support to the employee, who may be feeling the pressures of supporting a loved one suffering with poor mental health.
In addition, the service is completely private and confidential and if regular calls are made, patterns can be identified to pinpoint recurring issues which in turn leads to the appropriate support being offered moving forward.
As well as being used to support mental health in the workplace, employees can use the EAP to seek advice and support in regard to bereavements, break ups or any kind of outside influence that is impacting their mental health.
To further utilise the service, Plastic Surgeon designed and issued an EAP brochure to offer further details on the support the company supplies.
Mental health first aid champions
Earlier this year, the company launched a Mental Health First Aid Champions programme, where one employee in each of the eight regions it operates in, along with an additional four from its head office, received green mental health awareness pins. These champions are there to listen and support anyone who needs help and will guide them in the relevant direction needed to achieve the help and support required.
In addition, the training of employees enrolled on the Mental Health First Aid Champions courses offers the chance for them to share their own experiences, opening up other people’s perspectives of poor mental health and how support can be provided.
The company asked for volunteers to take part in the training and had more than 40 members of staff show an interest – almost one in four employees. The desire to help and support others in need is very much the cornerstone of the company culture at Plastic Surgeon. Employees are the company’s biggest asset, and this is reflected by their inclination to want to learn and understand how they can help each other inside and outside the workplace.
Fundraising events for mental health charities are always a fun way of promoting the importance of mental health, while also being a great opportunity to rally colleagues together to help achieve the same goal. A team from the company took part in the Exeter Great West Run to raise money for the Mental Health Foundation last year, creating a collective culture, promoting mental health awareness and raising much-needed funds.
Tea and talk events
Going back to the traditional methods of encouraging people to feel they can open up and share their problems, such as through tea and talk events, is always an effective way of showing employees they are not alone.
Plastic Surgeon’s line of work requires staff to be out in the field a lot of the time, as is the case with the majority of construction companies. The firm regularly provides employees with a little feelgood box packed with coffee, biscuits and a leaflet about mental health. The concept is simple and encourages people to take a break and have a drink and a chat with someone if they feel they need to open up about an issue they may be struggling with. It’s easy to implement in the office as employees are together throughout the day, but for those working alone or in small groups in the field, this is a practical way of showing the support is always there.
Every month, newsletters are issued around the company to raise the issue of poor mental health and encourage interaction and to create an ideology of togetherness among staff. One employee who had recently suffered with his mental health shared his story in the newsletter to encourage others who may find themselves in a similar position to open up. It’s about breaking down the illusion that those in the construction industry are strong and in control, and that it’s OK to be vulnerable and in need of help.
Overall, by implementing initiatives that create a thriving culture of openness and camaraderie between employees, an environment focusing on the protection and nurturing of mental health will be fostered. Ultimately, this will ensure healthier business practices not just in the construction industry, but across all business sectors.
Sally Orton, pictured, is the HR manager at Plastic Surgeon, the UK’s largest surface repair specialist. Founded in 1995, Plastic Surgeon deliver specialist repair services to the UK’s largest construction firms, house builders, insurers and homeowners nationwide