Shockingly, 82% of UK people in construction say they’ve experienced a mental health issue because of work. In this article, we discuss the impact of the mental health crisis specifically on the construction sector. We’ll also help answer the question; how can companies support construction employees’ mental health in the workplace.
Who’s affected by poor mental health in construction?
Female construction workers are more likely to have mental health conditions than their male colleagues. However, the percentage difference is very little; 87% compared to 80%.
When it comes to age, workers under 24 are the most likely to experience mental health issues, although 18% of people between 35 and 44 say they struggle with mental health every day.
Construction workers who are employed are at 10% greater risk of suffering from mental health conditions than those who are self-employed.
It’s concerning that most tradespeople (64%) say they experience stress due to work once a month or more.
What’s causing this crisis?
Here are some of the major factors causing the mental health crisis in construction:
Financial stress is the number one cause of poor mental health in construction workers.
A 2022 report by IronmongeryDirect in collaboration with the charity, Mind found that finances were the principal cause of stress for 34% of construction workers.
Plasterers are the group most likely to experience financial worries (92% say this is the main reason for stress). They’re also the least likely to take time away from work for mental health reasons.
This lack of time-off means construction workers can become locked in a vicious cycle. That’s because not taking a break from work further increases their stress levels.
Worryingly, there’s evidence that construction workers are continuing to work even when they’re sick or injured because they’re anxious about losing pay. This could cause severe, long-term damage to both their physical and mental health.
It’s vital that financial wellbeing is prioritised by employers in the construction industry because it’s a problem that will only worsen as the cost-of-living crisis escalates.
IronmongeryDirect and Mind found that 23% of construction workers said ‘high workload’ was the cause of their anxiety.
Those working in the construction industry work an average 41.2 hours a week compared to 36.3 hours for other sectors. Crane drivers work the longest hours (52.8 hours a week).
Evidence shows that productivity declines after 50 hours a week, so overworking isn’t good for a business either.
Not taking annual leave
Research cited by Professional Builder magazine found that construction workers take significantly fewer days of holiday than those in many other sectors. Their reasons include feeling ‘too busy’.
Not taking time off work can have a serious impact on someone’s mental and physical health. Overworking is linked to conditions such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
In contrast, taking time away from work reduces stress. When people aren’t feeling stressed, they’re more focussed and productive.
Workers who are tired and burnt-out make mistakes. This is incredibly dangerous in the construction industry (see ‘Occupational accidents’ below).
Difficulties with customers
A staggering 24% of construction workers said difficulties with customers were the main cause of their mental health difficulties.
Abuse from customers is a growing problem, according to IronmongeryDirect and Mind. 86% of construction workers say they’ve suffered abuse from customers in the course of their work.
Not talking about mental health
At the heart of the construction industry is a male-dominated culture. It’s a culture where people can often feel embarrassed and ashamed to ask for mental health support.
A study by Mates in Mind and the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) found that construction workers were unlikely to discuss their mental health with anybody. If they did decide to talk, it would only be to a close friend or family member.
It’s important for employers to take every possible step to de-stigmatise mental health. The longer it takes for someone to seek help, the more harmful the consequences can be.
What’s the impact of poor mental health in the construction industry?
Cases of suicide are highest in the construction sector
shockingly, the construction industry has the highest suicide rates of any other sector in the UK.
In 2020 there were 276 recorded suicides amongst skilled construction and building trades. That’s 80 more suicides than the next highest group (elementary administration and service occupations).
Research has found that those working in the construction sector may be 10 times more likely to die by suicide than from an accident at work.
These are horrifying statistics that demonstrate the absolute importance of prioritising mental health in the construction industry.
Overworking, fatigue, and high stress levels increase the risk of mistakes and accidents in the workplace. Those who suffer from mental health conditions may be less aware of what’s going on around them. This increases the likelihood of injuries and accidents.
In 2020, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that 36% of all fatal accidents were in the construction sector. The financial cost of accidents and ill health to the construction industry is now over £16 billion a year.
Time off work
In 2020, 26% of tradespeople who reported illness cited anxiety, depression, or stress.
More than 30% of construction workers who’ve suffered from mental health in the last two years haven’t taken time off work. However, according to National Building Specification, mental health still resulted in 70 million sick days at a cost of £70-£100 billion.
What can companies do to support employees’ mental health?
There are some importantgtant steps you can take to support the mental health of construction workers:
The correct mental health training could save a life
Offer managers and employees mental health training so they can spot the signs that a colleague may be struggling. The charity, Mind offers both face-to-face and virtual training courses for organisations.
Break the stigma surrounding mental health
For construction workers to have the confidence to ask for mental health support, there needs to be a cultural shift. Mates in Mind is a charity that advises employers in the construction industry how to foster a culture of openness and support.
Education is the most powerful way to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health (see ‘Provide mental health training’).
You could also encourage managers to share their own mental health challenges with colleagues to shift people’s perceptions. By having the courage to be open themselves, managers may give others the confidence to ask for help when they need it.
Encourage managers to check on colleagues
Managers may need training so they can offer genuinely valuable mental health support to colleagues. Spotting the signs of mental health issues, asking the right questions, listening, and then responding sensitively and constructively are key skills to develop.
There’s a fine line to walk when addressing mental health in the workplace. Your people need to know they can trust the person they’re confiding in with personal details.
Offer flexible mental health support
Consider providing opportunities for employees to have open conversations about their mental health.
As well as booking in regular check-ins with managers, make sure your people know they can receive support whenever they need it.
Offering a range of different ways for employees to access support can be helpful. Some people prefer to talk face-to-face, whilst others would rather communicate through email or online chat.
Share sources of support
Promote places where people can find professional help, such as Mind, Samaritans and any local mental health charities.
The NHS website also provides useful links to different sources of support.
Have a robust work-life balance policy
Consider creating a strong work-life balance policy that is promoted to employees when they join your organisation. The policy could clearly state the benefits of work-life balance both for employees and for the business.
The policy might cover parental leave, leave for medical appointments, flexible working arrangements, and more.
The aim is to communicate to staff that the business understands they have responsibilities outside work and that it respects those commitments.
Encourage employees to take annual leave
When managers and business leaders don’t take their holiday entitlement, other employees don’t feel they can either. This establishes an unhealthy culture where it becomes a luxury or over-indulgent to take annual leave.
Businesses need to make it easy for employees to book holiday days by having simple systems in place (for example, an app).
Employees need to know their managers are happy for them to take holiday and that it’s not an inconvenience.
Design a robust mix of employee benefits
You could provide employee benefits that promote construction workers’ mental health. Choose the benefits that best suit your workforce.
For example, you could offer free access to mental health apps. Apps have the advantage of being convenient for those who don’t have time to make an appointment.
Plus, they usually provide some level of support 24 hours a day. They’re also anonymous, so people can receive help without involving anybody else.
You could partner with a third party to provide employees with access to free, confidential counselling services. Sessions could be offered face-to-face, over the phone, or online to suit each employee.
Tackle the biggest cause of poor mental health with Openwage
Financial stress is the main cause of poor mental health in the construction industry. To help counter financial stress, we’ve built an app that allows construction employees to be paid sooner.
On-demand pay from Openwage gives employees greater financial flexibility by instantly getting paid the money they’ve earned. Employees can access up to 50% of their gross earned salary any time, for a low, transparent fee.
For employers, there’s no cost to roll out this employee benefit. With no impact on company cashflow or payroll, Openwage is the new way to pay employees that’s win-win.
To learn more about Openwage and how we can quickly and easily roll-out this benefit to your employees, please request a demo today.