Insight – is the construction sector facing a mental health crisis?

16 October 2020 | Investment

Property developers and investors rely on the smooth construction of homes and new developments to ensure their returns and bank balances are kept healthy, with hold-ups and delays having a detrimental economic and reputational impact.

As such, they may be interested – and shocked – to know that employees in the construction and engineering sector are struggling with poor mental wellbeing. More than a third of workers in these sectors have taken time off due to poor mental health, according to new research from Benenden Health, a not-for-profit healthcare provider.

A shocking 40% of employees in the construction and engineering sector took time off work due to poor mental health in 2019, compared to 35% across all sectors, with workers absent for between two and five days on average. This cost UK businesses an estimated four million individual days of work across all sectors.

Benenden Health, which has launched a new whitepaper exploring the impact of poor mental health on the UK workforce, is encouraging employers in the construction and engineering sector to talk with their teams and encourage them to speak about pressures they may be facing now – especially considering the impacts faced by many during lockdown.

The research – which asked employees to consider the impact of their mental health throughout their working life, rather than solely during the Covid-19 pandemic – also found that 45% of workers in construction and engineering who took time off due to poor mental wellbeing said they were honest about the reason for their absence. By contrast, just over a quarter (27%) of employees said they instead cited a physical issue and as many as 30% reported taking annual leave to avoid any questions or embarrassment.

The study also sought the views of employers in the construction and engineering sector, and they agreed that there is a stigma around discussing mental wellbeing at work, with seven in ten (73%) acknowledging this.

Meanwhile, 35% of employers said they aren’t aware of how to identify if an employee is struggling with their mental health and only 77% said they would be comfortable talking to them about it.

The main reasons for employees’ reticence to discuss their mental wellbeing in the construction and engineering workplace included being worried that people would treat them differently (21%) and others thinking they cannot do their job properly (32%). Meanwhile, just over a fifth (21%) said it was not the done thing in the industry.

“It comes as no great surprise to see that poor mental wellbeing is having such a significant impact on employees and businesses in the construction and engineering sector, even before the pandemic hit,” Bob Andrews, chief executive at Benenden Health, said.

“There continues to be a stigma around discussing our mental wellbeing and this is often more prevalent in the workplace than anywhere else. Unfortunately, businesses are too often unable to identify wellbeing issues, employees still feel like they can’t discuss them and there remains a lack of tangible support, all of which contribute to lost time and productivity for businesses as well as unaddressed poor employee wellbeing.”

He added: “It isn’t just the construction and engineering sector which is struggling with this issue, and the only way to tackle this is for businesses to prove to their employees that they genuinely care about their wellbeing, foster a culture of openness and provide the necessary internal and external support. By doing this, employers will be rewarded with fewer lost hours, a happier and more productive workforce and a workplace that is attractive to both current and prospective employees.”

To download Benenden’s new report: ‘The elephant that never left the office: Why stigma is still preventing employees from telling their boss the truth about their mental wellbeing in the workplace’, please click here.

This post has originally been featured in Property Investor Today.