Rebuilding construction workers' wellbeing following Covid: 5 top tips.

As a society, we are talking more about mental health and wellbeing than we ever have before: this is one of the few positive effects that the Covid19 pandemic has had. Not only are people speaking out more about their feelings in social groups, but workplaces are also understanding the importance of employee mental health, which has led to a much stronger focus on health and wellbeing at work.

Whilst we have seen a marked increase in the amount of conversations workplaces are having about mental health, there is still more that can be done. In fact, our March 2021 health and wellbeing survey of construction workers revealed that:

  • 42% experienced declining mental health due to Covid-19
  • 43% suffered with anxiety post-furlough
  • 45% reported high levels of stress at work
  • 20% took time off due to stress in the past year
  • 55% received no help from their employer in terms of managing stress.

Mental health in construction following a pandemic.

These startling figures clearly highlight that there is room for construction companies to improve the support they offer to their workers. In fact, stereotyped by a traditionally ‘macho’ culture, and compounded by high stress, long hours, and significant time away from home, construction has long been seen as a breeding ground for poor mental health.

Onsite and in the office environment.

It’s key to remember that the construction industry doesn’t just include workers based on site: it also includes those who are based in offices working in key support roles.

Across all locations, our survey found that 84% of UK construction workers had concerns about managing Covid in the workplace. Despite this very high percentage, 78% of respondents were still keen to get back to their physical working environment. The juxtaposition of the high levels of concern and the high desire to return highlights the clear need for support for our workers.

12% concerned about job security.

Our survey revealed that employees are calling out for reassurance at work - not just about Covid safety measures, but also about the impact of the pandemic on their jobs. 

As an employer in the construction sector, there are many ways you can support the mental health and wellbeing of your workers, whatever their concerns are, and that starts with opening up the conversation. For some, this can seem like a bit of an uncomfortable or overwhelming task, especially if you’ve never done it before! To support, we’ve listed five  practical steps you can take to let your employees know that you are looking out for their mental health and wellbeing.

Five top tips for supporting construction workers’ wellbeing:

  1. Implement a wellbeing toolkit
  2. Introduce a wellbeing champion
  3. Reduce stigma with an open door policy
  4. Lead from the front
  5. Check in regularly

Implement a wellbeing toolkit.

When we asked our survey respondents what they need in order to improve their wellbeing, mental health and resilience training came out on top., with 60% of construction workers keen to undertake some training. Stress reduction workshops weren’t far behind at 54%, followed by workplace wellbeing champions (50%) and mindfulness training (48%). Meditation sessions were slightly less popular, at 43%. 

These statistics clearly highlight that implementing a wellbeing toolkit that can be shared with your workers is an effective way to start. Along with the practical training already mentioned, a toolkit could include information on strategies to cope with the pressure of their work, and signpost free resources or professional support. In fact, 43% of survey respondents said they would benefit from having access to an anonymous helpline.

Whatever you set up should be tailored to your employees’ needs, so it could be worth carrying out your own quick survey to check what’s really wanted.

Introduce a wellbeing champion.

27% of workers we spoke to said that they would like to see a named person onsite that they could trust and confide in, such as a wellbeing champion. This could work at both onsite and office locations. 

Wellbeing champions are employees who volunteer to focus on improving the wellbeing of their fellow colleagues, as part of the company wellbeing initiatives. Creating a role like this can be a quick and easy way to bridge the gap between employee and employer - both supporting fellow employees with their wellbeing, and reporting back to management about the successes (and potentially shortcomings) of company wellbeing strategies.

Reduce stigma with an open door policy.

Employers need to reduce stigma, raise awareness, change attitudes and provide knowledge to empower construction workers to look after their mental health and wellbeing. One way to do this is by having an open door policy, that encourages workers to come and speak to each other, or to managers, when they feel they need to. This can be both a physical and metaphorical ‘open door’ and the idea can work across working locations.

Lead from the front.

Similarly, company leaders need to set the precedent for open conversations around wellbeing. This will take steps to inspire all employees to feel more comfortable speaking up about any issues they are struggling with. 
When it comes to implementing plans to support your employees’ wellbeing, input and buy-in from all leadership team members is vital. Encourage leadership to take part in non-work related chat, lighthearted conversations, and wellbeing initiatives, wherever they may be based. You could co-ordinate ideas with all leadership in a private chat, and discuss plans, initiatives and ideas for improving the support you offer to your teams

Check in regularly.

This one may seem obvious, however, can be something that gets easily overlooked when workloads are busy. It can be a good idea to introduce a similar session aimed purely at discussing non work related issues. Alongside this more formal set up, it can work well to have informal ‘coffee and catch up’ sessions, which can work both onsite and in an office. Equally, if you have set up a group chat or something similar to help people stay in touch when not working in the same place, keep this going where you can.

As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, the most successful leaders will be those with employee welfare at the forefront of their minds. The employers who recognise that their people need time to heal, and to adapt and the team leaders who focus on rebuilding workplace relationships, without losing the lessons of the past year.