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Mental Health Concerns in Construction and Engineering

14 October 2020 | Updated 15 October 2020

Employees in the construction and engineering sector are struggling with poor mental wellbeing, with more than a third taking time off due to poor mental health, according to new research from not-for-profit healthcare provider, Benenden Health.

40 per cent of employees in the construction and engineering sector took time off work due to poor mental health in 2019, compared to 35 per cent across all sectors, with workers absent for between two and five days on average, costing UK businesses an estimated 40 million individual days of work across all sectors.

Benenden Health, which has launched a new whitepaper looking at the impact of poor mental health on the UK workforce, is encouraging employers in the construction and engineering sector to talk with their teams and encourage them to speak about pressures they may be facing now, especially considering the impacts faced by many during lockdown. A not-for-profit organisation, Benenden Health enables businesses to offer affordable private healthcare to every employee. This includes round the clock care such as 24/7 GP and mental health helplines, plus speedy access to services such as physiotherapy and medical treatment so employees can have peace of mind that they can ask for help whenever they need it.


Research Results


The recent research asked employees to consider the impact of their mental health throughout their working life, rather than solely during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also revealed that 45 per cent of workers in construction and engineering who took time off due to poor mental wellbeing said they were honest about the reason for their absence, with 27 per cent of employees saying they instead cited a physical issue and as many as 30 per cent reported taking annual leave to avoid any questions or embarrassment.

The views of employers in the construction and engineering sector were also sought, and they agreed there is a stigma around discussing mental wellbeing at work, with 73 per cent acknowledging this, whilst 35 per cent of employers said they don’t know how to identify if an employee is struggling with their mental wellbeing and only 77 per cent said they would be comfortable talking to them about it.

This evidence backs concerns raised in June of this year. President of the BCIA Terry Sharp noted that there is still the stereo typical macho image in the construction scene, especially amongst site workers where strength and suitability for the role are unhealthily linked with masculinity. With the suicide rate highest in men overall regadless of industry, and the construction and engineering sectors still predominately male, surveys have shown time again that they feel unable to express their issues choosing to surpress instead.


What's Going Wrong?


“There continues to be a stigma around discussing our mental wellbeing and this is often more prevalent in the workplace than anywhere else."

–Bob Andrews
CEO, Benenden Health

The main reasons for employees’ resistence to discuss their mental wellbeing in the construction and engineering workplace included 21 per cent that were worried that people would treat them differently and 32 per cent thinking they cannot do their job properly, whilst 21 per cent said it was not the done thing in the industry.

Bob Andrews, CEO at Benenden Health, said: “It comes as no great surprise to see that poor mental wellbeing is having such a significant impact on employees and businesses in the construction and engineering sector, even before the pandemic hit.

“There continues to be a stigma around discussing our mental wellbeing and this is often more prevalent in the workplace than anywhere else. Unfortunately, businesses are too often unable to identify wellbeing issues, employees still feel like they can’t discuss them and there remains a lack of tangible support, all of which contribute to lost time and productivity for businesses as well as unaddressed poor employee wellbeing."

It's clear that there is still a long way to come in dismantling the tabboo, especially on construction sites, and in encouraging employees to support each other as friends and colleagues. BCIA's Terry Sharp said: "there is still plenty of work to do of course and during my term as BCIA President I will aim to help promote the message that it is okay to not be okay." Charities like Mind work around the clock to aid these efforts – last week was World Mental Health Day run by them, an awareness day amongst several other campaigns every year that promote understanding and transparency in order to get help to those in need.


The Effects of Isolation

The lockdowns across the world affected many education avenues, and those interested in improving their quality of life through this method were left with fewer options as places like the BCIA's Training Centre shut down for some time. Construction courses can be hands-on and raise social distancing concerns, even as restrictions have eased. This year BESA opened their online training academy, helping users to build skill passports at a crucial time for adaptation. Many have found difficulty adjusting to isolated online teaching however, across the entire course spectrum in higher education. In March 2020, the HSE updated its Protecting Lone Workers: How to Manage the Risks of Working Alone guidance document, which advises employers and employees on the factors that need to be considered when assessing and managing the risks to lone workers’ health, safety and wellbeing. SOCOTEC, a UK provider of testing, inspection and compliance services also provided advice for employers on how they can help their workforce adjusting to this. 

“It isn’t just the construction and engineering sector which is struggling with this issue" said Bob Andrews, CEO at Benenden Health. "The only way to tackle this is for businesses to prove to their employees that they genuinely care about their wellbeing, foster a culture of openness and provide the necessary internal and external support. By doing this, employers will be rewarded with fewer lost hours, a happier and more productive workforce and a workplace that is attractive to both current and prospective employees.”

Picture: three workers on a building site.

Article written by Bailey Sparkes | Published 14 October 2020


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