Looking After Ourselves and Each Other

Media reports earlier this year revealed that: ‘64% of construction workers want better physical and mental wellbeing from their employers.’ We have long term issues with physical and mental work-related illness in the sector so that statistic shouldn’t surprise anyone.

The good news is that, as an industry, we have sat up and taken notice of mental health. Initiatives such as Mates in Mind are helping to raise awareness and remove the stigma associated with mental illness.

But with all the focus on mental health are we in danger of overlooking our physical wellbeing? There is a very close link, naturally, between physical, emotional and mental health. No employer or individual should neglect any of them.

Not Just the Workplace

Wellbeing isn’t just about what happens at work. While we strive to create a healthy environment and supportive culture at work we can’t afford to ignore that we spend more of our life outside of the workplace.  Helping our people to take better care of themselves and each other outside of work is just as important.

Simple things, such as eating and sleeping correctly make a big difference. Keeping hydrated is one of the simplest ways that we can all help ourselves to stay healthy. A basic understanding of nutritional needs and a healthy balanced diet is something we should all be aware of.

A Good Workout

And, of course, there’s the importance of exercise. For people who work on site it’s easy to assume that work activities provide enough exercise. In some cases, this may be true. But it may also be that only a limited set of muscles are being worked and that cardiovascular health is being overlooked – how often does your work make you out of breath or elevate your heart rate?

For office-based staff the need for exercise is obvious. Too much time sitting down is now one of the biggest health risks globally. Some argue that it’s now a bigger danger than smoking. We should all make time to do some exercise, at least three times a week. It doesn’t have to mean joining a gym and pumping weights, a good brisk walk can work wonders. We can also do simple things like using the stairs rather than lifts or escalators.

We need to take regular breaks from our screens and have proper lunch and rest breaks.

Does Technology Help?

Technology is potentially a boon and a curse. It can give people greater flexibility about how, when and where they work. This can significantly boost wellbeing by giving people more control. It can also lead to a situation where people are always at work and never switch off.

How Big is the Problem?

In a recent survey by the CIPD two thirds of firms reported that they had experienced people working when they should be on leave. 86% had experienced ‘presenteeism, or people coming into work while ill or working longer hours than needed because of job insecurity. All of these would contribute to an unhealthy lifestyle and health risks.

The survey also found that 55% of firms believed that reported mental health conditions had increased. There could, of course be a positive side to this. The statistic might reflect the fact that more people feel able to talk to their employer about mental health. Arguably, we need to be just as open and informed about discussing physical health.

The industry is making progress with mental health (although there’s still plenty more to do). We must match these efforts with action to help improve physical wellbeing if we are to have a truly healthy workforce.

For individuals, the challenge is this: when will you start to make the changes that mean you are taking better care of your health? After your holiday? Next Year? Why not tomorrow, or today, or even right now?”

Jay Johnston Head of Safety, Health and Environment (SHE)