January 3 2023

Employee wellbeing in construction: A united approach

Wellbeing is linked to higher levels of labour productivity. This means that physically and mentally well employees can have a positive impact on your organisation’s bottom line. While many industries have embraced this, we explore why employee wellbeing in construction is lagging behind. 

A lack of gender diversity in construction

Historically a male dominated industry, statistics from the Office of National statistics (ONS) show that only 13% of the construction industry is female. Incredibly, this figure has been constant over the last two decades.

This imbalance in gender equality, and the culture of machismo it fosters, could help explain why employee wellbeing in construction has been so neglected.

Obstacles to gender diversity in construction

A lack of diversity creates an imbalanced and non-inclusive work culture. This has a negative impact on wellbeing for both men and women.

Let’s delve into some issues that women face and how these hinder wellbeing in construction.

1. Pay gap

Unfortunately, the gender pay gap is an issue in every industry. In the UK, it currently stands at 18%. According to the CIPD, women in construction are worse off, with a pay gap of 23.7%.

Part of improving employee wellbeing in construction is incentivising women to enter the sector. To do this, companies need to ensure pay equality.

2. Childcare options

In the UK, 43% of women considered leaving their job due to childcare costs, with 40% saying they had to reduce their hours.

As the Harvard Business Review explores, childcare really is a business issue and a lack of affordable childcare doesn’t just harm women. 

That’s because almost one in four construction employees said that caring for children during the first lockdown limited their career progression. Of this figure, 20% were men.

3. Education

The UK has the lowest rate of women engineers compared with European countries. Currently, 16.5% of women in the UK are engineers. For Latvia, Bulgaria, and Cyprus, the figure stands at 30%. 

To help solve this, we need to change people’s perception that the building sector is only for men, as well as giving better learning and training opportunities to younger women. 

4. Sexism

Women working in construction are more likely to face sexist abuse than in other industries. In 2005, 66% reported experiencing gender discrimination in the workplace. This rose to 72% in 2020.

Some suggest this is because of the visibility of the #metoo movement. This may well be the case, but one thing’s for sure; sexual discrimination hasn’t decreased.

All forms of discrimination in the workplace reduce wellbeing and have a negative impact on company culture.

The case for gender diversity

Exploring employee wellbeing in construction wouldn’t be complete without diving into the topic of gender diversity.

While it’s a term that’s been around for a while, there is still much to be done to achieve gender diversity in construction.

But why is it so important? The best argument has to be this; companies that are gender diverse perform 15% better.

So while there’s an ethical case to be made for levelling up the playing field, there’s a business one too.

1. Better employee mental health

A diverse worksforce helps create a safer, more inclusive company culture for everyone and could help tackle the construction industry’s mental health crisis.

2. Boost to financial stability 

Studies by the IMF show that economic growth, and private and public sector performance are boosted with a workforce that’s gender diverse.

3. Tackling solve the skills shortage.

Young women are currently the fastest growing working group. Targeting women workers could be key in tackling the labour shortage and widening the recruitment pool.

4. Greater creativity

Women and men can think differently, so companies will benefit from having diverse approaches and strategies.

Gender diversity certainly boosts employee wellbeing. Now let’s look at how it benefits business.

The business benefits of employee wellbeing

Forward thinking businesses introduce wellbeing initiatives because they want to do the right thing by their employees and contribute to supporting happier lives.

But they also understand that employee wellbeing is a significant factor in the business of success.

Below, we’ve listed some of the major benefits of greater employee wellbeing in construction (although this applies to all sectors):

1. An increase in productivity

The CIPD found that wellbeing at work led to higher levels of employee engagement, performance and productivity, and reduced sickness absence.

2. Less absenteeism

According to the ONS, sickness related absence in construction increased from 1.7% in 2019 to 2.1% in 2021. In contrast, employees who are physically and mentally well are less likely to take time off through sickness. 

3. An increase in recruitment and retention

Companies that foster wellbeing not only retain their workforce, they also attract top talent. In today’s market where the recruitment crisis has led to a shortage of skilled labour, greater wellbeing could help ease the labour and skills shortage.

4. An improved company reputation and brand

There’s nothing more powerful than employees’ passion and initiative to make customers happy and to spark long-lasting word of mouth about your brand.

When employees feel good, they bring energy and enthusiasm into their work.  

Wellbeing in the construction industry for women

Research from Gallup shows how a good employee experience boosts the engagement, morale, and performance of your whole workforce.

Consequently, it’s a good idea to keep lines of communication open and actively encourage feedback from employees on wellbeing initiatives.

By doing so, it will help HR practitioners to understand which initiatives offer the best ROI. As the saying goes, your company is only as good as its people.

Now let’s look at how employee wellbeing initiatives in construction can help women:


People are working longer than ever before. That means that employers need to focus not only on the needs and interests of Gen Z, but also on the wellbeing needs of older employees.

Menopausal (and peri-menopausal) symptoms can start in women from their mid-thirties, and in rarer cases, from the twenties. 

The Menopause and workplace report found that one in four women consider giving up work because of these symptoms and one in ten actually leave because of them.

In the battle to retain and attract skilled employees, neglecting the wellbeing of such a large section of the workforce could have a detrimental effect.

Flexible working, mental health support, and access to information could feature more in employee benefits packages, as the effects of menopause on working women are more widely understood.

Baby loss

Currently, the CIPD found that only 36% of employers have a policy in place to support employees going through a miscarriage or baby loss. These experiences affect fathers as well as mothers. 

The CIPD suggests paid compassionate leave in such circumstances.

General childcare challenges

Again, this affects both men and women. More than a third of employees say that balancing childcare and work has negatively affected their mental health and wellbeing.

Many companies have taken to offering childcare onsite as part of their comprehensive benefits package, as this article in the Guardian explores.

Onsite childcare can help to help reduce the stress and expense for working parents, meaning that employees can focus more easily on their work.  

Wellbeing initiatives in construction for men

One of the most shocking aspects of the construction industry is that it has the highest suicide rate in any sector. 

Poor mental health costs UK employers £42-£45 billion a year and absenteeism costs around £7 billion year. A lack of wellbeing can cost employers more than they realise.

Employee wellbeing in construction that targets men can take many forms, including:

Mental health training

Employers can ensure that managers and employees are trained and educated in how to recognise the signs of burnout and mental health issues.

Normalising talking about mental health

The culture of machismo makes talking about mental health hard. To help counter this, employers can help improve mental health in construction by leading the way and encouraging more education and discussion around the subject.

One way to do this is by promoting organisations like Mates in mind. This can have a powerful impact if the information is accessible and employees engage with it. 

Encouraging managers to check on team members

When managers make a point of checking on the mental health of team members, it creates a less toxic company culture where open communication is valued.

A robust work/life policy and flexible hours

For both men and women working in construction, the long hours and rigid work practices undermine the work-life balance which is vital to our wellbeing.

Flexible hours and encouraging workers to take their paid leave are excellent initiatives to promote healthier employees working in construction.

Financial stress is now top of employee wellbeing needs

Forward thinking companies understand that employee wellbeing and business success are linked. As a result, many are upping the stakes on employee wellbeing by upgrading their benefits packages.

But while childcare solutions, gym, and healthcare memberships are important, employers are beginning to recognise one of the greatest factors that hinders wellbeing; financial stress.

That’s why here at Openwage, we built a platform that allows employers to easily and securely roll out earned wage access to employees.

Through our app, your employees can benefit from on-demand access to the money they’ve already earned without waiting for their usual payday. 

On-demand pay brings an end to rigid paydays that can cause widespread financial stress among employees, which saps their productivity.

Learn more about the benefits of this employee perk for both your company and your people.