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Suffering in Silence for Building Sector Workers

02 November 2021

More than a third of employees in the architecture, engineering and construction sector would not talk to their employer if they were experiencing a health issue, having a detrimental impact on business performance and culture, according to new research from not-for-profit healthcare provider, Benenden Health.

As many as 38 per cent of individuals in the industry reported that they wouldn’t feel confident discussing any health issue with their employer, with many worrying about what it would mean for their career and relationships within the workplace.

With almost half of all employees in architecture, engineering and construction revealing that they have a health issue, long-term condition or disability, Benenden Health is warning that fear and stigma around health in the workplace means millions of workers may not be getting the necessary level of support from their employers. This could lead to absences, lower productivity and employees ultimately leaving their job.

In 2020, Benenden Health found that 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. 


“Healthcare support should be available to all employees, not just senior staff, and despite some misconceptions, this can be implemented at an affordable cost."


– Naomi Thompson
Head of OD at Benenden Health


Common Ailments and Concerns Revealed


The organisation has launched a new report shedding light on the key health issues and conditions that affect the nation’s workforce and offering advice to businesses on how to provide support to all employees, regardless of their background or health status, and ensure healthcare provision caters equally and inclusively for a diverse team.  

The survey revealed the most common ailments that workers have not disclosed to their employer to be poor mental health, high blood pressure and arthritis – these are all conditions that could be exacerbated in the workplace.

34 per cent also disclosed that they have lied to an employer about taking time off for an appointment, making it difficult for businesses to ensure workers are getting the appropriate support.

The reasons why employees in architecture, engineering and construction would be reticent to discuss their wellbeing at work were also revealed, with 26 per cent saying they would worry that people would think they couldn’t do their job, 22 per cent believing they might lose their job, 17 per cent concerned that they would be talked about and 9 per cent worrying that people wouldn’t want to be their friend.

For some, these concerns were based on experience, with 9 per cent of employees in the industry believing that they have been overlooked for a job in the past due to a health issue, long-term condition or disability.

Following the findings, Benenden Health is calling on business owners in the industry to open communication channels with their teams and consider the health needs of their workforce to support positive wellbeing, increase retention and reduce unexpected absences.

This evidence backs concerns raised in June of last 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. On International Men's Day, we took a look at some of the gender issues that affect male-dominated sectors in FM.


Lack of Comfort to Disclose


Naomi Thompson, Head of OD at Benenden Health, said: “It is disappointing that so many people still feel they can’t speak to their employers about their wellbeing.

“This stigma is especially prevalent in the workplace, with businesses too often unable to identify wellbeing issues, employees concerned about the implications of discussing them and a continuing lack of tangible support, all of which contribute to lost time and productivity for businesses as well as unaddressed poor employee wellbeing.

“Healthcare support should be available to all employees, not just senior staff, and despite some misconceptions, this can be implemented at an affordable cost. Tailored wellbeing programmes, developed with employee consultation and recognising the different needs of a multigenerational workforce, can increase productivity, support recruitment and promote a happier and healthier workforce.”

Benenden Health enables businesses to offer affordable, high quality, private healthcare to every employee. This includes round the clock care such as mental health helplines, 24/7 GP plus access to services such as mental health counselling support and medical diagnostics so employees can have peace of mind that they can ask for help whenever they need it.


Picture: a worker on a construction site.

Article written by Bailey Sparkes | Published 02 November 2021


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