We are currently talking a good deal about mental health and it’s about time too
For a long time, the construction industry has not been the most comfortable environment for people to talk about how they are feeling.
As with all traditionally male-dominated industries, there was a deep-rooted culture where strength was celebrated and exhibiting any outward signs of vulnerability was avoided at all costs.
I am delighted to say that this culture is slowly but surely evolving, not least because the industry is thankfully becoming much more diverse and open, but also because we have a far better understanding of the issues and the challenges that many people have previously faced in silence.
Let’s be under no illusions about the mental health challenge in the construction industry on average somebody within our industry takes their own life every day, a truly staggering statistic that has no comparison in industry.
Construction can be an incredibly rewarding industry to be part of but the hours can be long and the pressures high. This, combined with the stresses and strains of everyday life, can have a hugely detrimental impact on people’s mental health and general well-being.
Policies that put people first
At Wates, the wellbeing of every single colleague is our top priority and that means we have to tackle the causes as well as the symptoms.
On a practical level we are now an industry leader in terms of our people policies with regards to how we recruit and how we promote – knowing that professional progression is not reliant on being the last person in the office or on site every day is a hugely important part of that cultural change that I referenced earlier.
Our maternity and paternity policies are also designed to provide as much support as possible to colleagues during what can be the most amazing but also stressful times of our lives.
The last six months of lockdown has also exacerbated some of the challenges that people have faced but it has also accelerated a move towards more flexible working which again we hope will have a positive impact on our overall wellbeing.
One of the mantras that has driven our business in recent years is zero harm and this doesn’t just mean accidents on site but also eliminating all work-related illnesses including those around mental health.
On both counts we have made fantastic progress and we now have almost 300 trained Mental Health First Aiders across our business, there to support colleagues who need somebody to reach out to.
Mental health challenges will affect one in four of us in our lifetime and thankfully it no longer holds the same stigma it once did, either in the construction industry or in wider society generally.
This Saturday (10 October) is World Mental Health Day and it must be a reminder to us that we all have a part to play in supporting those around us who may be in need.
The old saying goes that a problem shared is a problem halved so let’s make sure we keep on talking.