Would your Workforce Trust you Enough to Unload their Worries?

“Would you be able to tell if somebody in your organisation was suffering from stress? Would you know what to do about it if they were? Would they trust you enough to share their worries?
What if that person was you?

Construction is a high-pressure business. Deadlines, tight margins and security over future work create stress and anxiety. Pressure is part of the appeal of working in the sector for many people. But where does the pressure to hit deadlines and overcome challenges tip over into an unhealthy state of mind?

According to HSE data, in 2015/16 stress accounted for 37% of all work-related ill health cases and 45% of all working days lost due to ill health. To put that into even more context, we’re talking about nearly half a million people affected by work-related stress, depression or anxiety.

Put another way, we have the potential to cut absence due to ill health almost in half by being better at managing workplace mental health.

The Good Day at Work Annual Report for 2014/2015 found that recognising and dealing effectively with mental health is a significant issue across UK business:
• 9 out of 10 people who experience mental health problems say they face stigma and discrimination as a result.
• Stigma is a huge challenge: 40% of employers viewed workers with mental health problems as a ‘significant risk’.
• 8 in 10 employers had no mental health policy.
• Stress has forced 1 in 5 workers to call in sick; 90% did not feel able to tell their boss the real reason why.
Clearly, there is an issue with employees feeling able to ‘open up’ about being under pressure. If you believe that it will affect how you are perceived and don’t believe you will be helped or supported, why would you tell anyone?

There’s evidence that awareness and management of workplace mental health is improving – but change needs to happen at a faster pace.
Removing all stresses and pressures is unrealistic. What we need to be clear about is whether the people we work with are in a mental state in which they can deal with normal pressures, work productively and maintain human relationships. If they can’t, they need to be helped.

How to spot signs of unhealthy levels of stress:
• Dress and grooming –is someone not as fastidious as they once were or looking unkempt?
• Mannerisms, posture, facial expressions – do they look defeated, angry, aggressive?
• Physical changes such as shakes, increased nervousness, reluctance to make eye contact.
• Talking faster, slower, louder or quieter than normal.
• Rambling, unfocused speech.
• Do they forget what they are saying or switch subjects randomly?
• Difficulties interacting with visitors, team members, supervisors, managers or family.
• Problems with relationships and friendships.
• Are they full of conspiracy theories?
• Exhibiting obsessions or compulsion.
• Judgments and insights out of kilter.
• Mood swings, being depressive, flat, inappropriate or volatile.

If people are exhibiting characteristics of stress, the challenge to their support system at work is to help them discuss the pressure they are feeling. It could be something simple like time management or having too many tasks to juggle and not being able to juggle any of them.
We also need to know how to create our own boundaries to prevent stress. This can be as simple as knowing when to switch the phone off, put the computer away or going for a walk rather than working through lunch.
Being confident enough to ask for help or empowered enough to not be pressurised into unrealistic commitments (and then shovelling that stress onto subordinates or subcontractors) would be major steps forward.

And with greater awareness, we can build the trust that people need to come forward and ask for help.”

Hayden Woods is a Trainee Quantity Surveyor for Infrastructure at Osborne.