“People are our greatest asset”. It is a phrase that many will have heard spoken numerous times, but companies in the past haven’t always acted as if they truly believed this statement.
However, skills shortages caused by Brexit and Covid travel restrictions have limited the availability of workers from EU. Together with ever-decreasing numbers of young people choosing to enter the construction industry, skilled construction workers really are becoming worth their weight in gold.
As a result, construction businesses are increasingly aware of the importance of looking after their ‘greatest asset’. Employee wellbeing is a hot topic at the moment, both in and out of construction, and rightly so...
The past year has shone a light on employee wellbeing, and in terms of the construction industry, it shows a bleak outlook. In fact, construction has one of the worst rates of mental wellbeing of all industries.
In a report created by Rob Driscoll, Director of Legal and Business at the ECA, it highlighted that 90% of survey respondents said they suffer an array of mental health problems due to the pressures of late or unfair payment, including stress, depression, extreme anger, anxiety and panic attacks. ECA’s director of CSR Paul Reeve says, “Everybody expects businesses to deal with everyday pressures, but stress and other mental health impacts come from sustained and excessive pressure.” He continues, “It’s absolutely clear from these findings that poor payment is a serious cause of mental health issues across the industry and that the problem, far from being isolated to certain individuals, is commonplace even among top management.”
We typically think of late payment and the resultant cash flow challenges as a business problem, but the reality is, it’s very much a human one.
The sudden nature of the Covid pandemic demanded a change inworking practices and an increase in communication within companies and teams. Owners, Directors and Executives have been forced to implement better and more effective methods of communication, no longer able to rely on information being cascaded on site.
This has led to better employee engagement, which can only be a good thing for helping to ensure workers’ wellbeing. Managers have also had to be more proactive, by necessity, in checking in with individuals and having conversations around wellbeing which were probably less likely to have happened prior to the pandemic.
Work-life balance has been addressed by many companies and individuals during this time, with perspectives changing in light of this unprecedented situation. For those who can work remotely it is no longer a question of ‘how’, as it has been proved it can work. Now the question is around how much time they work remotely to best support them in their individual circumstances. However, there is still more to be done to support those workers who are struggling with their mental health.
Some companies have utilised lockdowns to implement new systems to ‘check in’ with workers, listen to their feedback and offer support and assistance to improve any issues they are facing in the workplace.
Bouygues UK are a company within the construction industry, who continue to embed and enhance schemes to support their employees. They now have a number of established ‘affinity networks’ that support minorities in the workplace, and have recently launched their ‘Speak Up’ campaign which provides an independent mechanism for employees and site workers to call out and report inappropriate behaviour and harassment. There is also more emphasis being placed on providing training and strategies for employees to improve their resilience and ensure they have the skills in place to cope if stressful situations arise. This is supported by an in-house network of trained Mental Health First Aiders.
In a recent webinar, Anne Smales from Bouygues UK detailed the steps they are taking to proactively address employee wellbeing. Much of the conversation on this webinar centred around communication and collaboration, both internally with employees and externally with their supply chain, which is essential in order to make everyone feel included, valued and supported.
People are talking about mental health in the construction industry more now, new charities and support groups like Mates in Mind and Lighthouse are appearing, but there is more to do. The stigma, and reluctance for individuals to admit they are struggling and the endemic payment issues in construction are definitely still a real problem and need to be addressed.
As society moves forward and away from the strict lockdown measures that were put in place over the past 12 months, companies and individuals must ensure that the good practices that have been implemented during this time continue into the future, and develop further to keep tackling this 'silent pandemic' which has been with us for a lot longer.