Under Pressure? Who Can you Talk to?

Construction is an industry with relatively high risks to individuals. And, while significant progress has been made when it comes to reducing physical harm, the industry has been slower to wake up to its mental health risks.

Between 2011 and 2015, 13.2% of in work suicides occurred in construction trades. These trades made up around 7% of the UK workforce. Clearly, the suicide risk in construction is disproportionately high.

Suicide is the extreme case. How many more people have been struggling in silence with anxiety, stress and depression? The truth is, we just don’t know. Because mental health has had too low a profile (and not just in construction). Too many cases go unreported and too many people fail to get the help they desperately need.

Construction is a high-pressure business. That’s not always a bad thing. It’s part of what makes it such a stimulating and energised sector to work in. But when, for an individual, that pressure tips over into something they can’t manage or coincides with other stress factors in their personal life, it becomes dangerous. That’s the time when you need sympathetic colleagues and enlightened employment practices to help you through in an environment where speaking up is not seen as easy.

Deadlines will always be tight. Future work may not always be secure. There are long hours and typically long stretches working away from home. But when does the pressure to hit deadlines and overcome challenges lead to an unhealthy state of mind? We all have our own threshold and sometimes we don’t realise ourselves when we are getting close to it.

Things are improving. We are learning to talk more about our worries and concerns. With help available at work, more employees feel able to ‘open up’ about being under pressure.

The role for employers is to create a culture where people feel able to talk about their anxieties and feeling under pressure. Being able to open up in this way should be seen as a sign of strength, not weakness.

Osborne is doing its bit. It encourages its people to talk openly about problems. They take part in the Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index and have recently taken part in the latest survey. They currently have a bronze award and are aiming for silver. The index increased in 2017/18 to 57%, up from 42% in the previous year. They currently have over 50 trained Mental Health First Aiders in the business.

Removing all stresses and pressures is unrealistic, but we need to recognise as a key aspect of our duties as an employer that we need to be alert to 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.

Sometimes small changes can help relieve people of the pressure they are feeling. It could be something simple like helping them with time management or simple re-prioritising. We can help people by reminding them to switch the phone off, put the computer away or going for a walk rather than working through lunch to try to get through ever-growing to-do lists.

Looking after mental health is about knowing our own boundaries and making sure things are balanced as much as possible in our home and working lives. And sometimes it’s about having people around you, and an employer who is able to see the warning signs and have the awareness and confidence to make sure you get the help you need.