Mental Health And Wellbeing

NextGen Perspectives on...Wellbeing and Mental Health: The invisible risk

In April, G&T hosted the New London Architecture (NLA) NextGen Working Group, as part of the NLA’s NextGen programme. The programme seeks to bring together young professionals and established construction industry experts to explore and discuss some of the critical issues being faced in the industry.

The discussion saw attendees split up into four groups, with each group allocated a relevant and timely topic to debate and exchange ideas on. One of the topics being dissected during the session was ‘Wellbeing and Mental Health in the Workplace’.

Particular questions being asked were ‘what does wellbeing mean for the next generation?’ and ‘can the industry do more to promote positive mental health?’.

Wellbeing and Mental Health: The invisible risk

The oft-touted statistic is one in four will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. The World Health Organisation says that around 450m people are currently suffering from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The construction industry is by no means immune from the stresses and challenges that can trigger poor mental health. Whilst it can certainly be a rewarding and varied industry to work in, it can also create a high pressure environment. Long and demanding working hours can induce work-related stress and trigger mental health issues.

The group discussed a variety of sub-topics, ranging from steps that could be taken to create a more supportive culture, to more tangible actions such as tailoring the internal working environment to promote wellbeing.

The quality of the environment is essential to health, wellbeing and productivity. Both physical and mental health are heavily influenced by personal surroundings. There are many ways that construction professionals can promote better places for people. Access to sunlight, fresh air, greenery and the use of natural materials and colour are all ways to provide healthier, more uplifting environments. There are many design and management practices that can unleash benefits straight away in all kinds of buildings. They do not need to be expensive or elaborate. Even a simple health and wellbeing employee survey generates actionable information (for example, healthier food options), not to mention goodwill among colleagues.

"Access to sunlight, fresh air, greenery and the use of natural materials and colour are all ways to provide healthier, more uplifting environments."

The quality of the environment is essential to health, wellbeing and productivity. Both physical and mental health are heavily influenced by personal surroundings. There are many ways that construction professionals can promote better places for people. Access to sunlight, fresh air, greenery and the use of natural materials and colour are all ways to provide healthier, more uplifting environments. There are many design and management practices that can unleash benefits straight away in all kinds of buildings. They do not need to be expensive or elaborate. Even a simple health and wellbeing employee survey generates actionable information (for example, healthier food options), not to mention goodwill among colleagues.

A building that focuses on health and wellbeing is also one that tends to be more productive. Studies of HR data have shown that absenteeism, medical costs and staff turnover are lower in physical environments that prioritise wellbeing. There is a strong business case, especially since the two largest medical costs for office-based workers – musculoskeletal problems and mental health issues – are believed to be, at least in part, building-related. There is every reason to think that businesses can help themselves (and, of course, their employees) by promoting better internal environments.

Mental Health And Wellbeing Emma Scott Miller
Emma Scott-Miller (left), G&T

The working group noted that more employees are voting with their feet. Staff retention rates have been found to be higher when facilities such as therapy and yoga rooms are provided by employers. Such offerings are obviously more difficult to provide on a construction site, but there are other ways of addressing mental health for on-site workers. In 2017, the Health in Construction Leadership Group (HCLG) launched a charity called ‘Mates in Mind’, which aims to provide clear information to employers about available support and guidance for mental health, mental illness and mental wellbeing, and how they can address this within their organisations.

By the charity’s own admission, they are not looking to reinvent the wheel. Instead they try to help workers make sense of the available options by partnering with leading mental health charities such as Mind and Mental Health First Aid England. Knowing where to go to get the necessary support is often a major hurdle and Mates in Mind helps people understand how, when and where to get the best support.

3
Shadeyah Chin-Manahan (left), Rider Levett Bucknall

Participants in the group voiced their concerns about the importance of fostering a supportive culture. It’s imperative that this comes from the top of an organisation, ensuring that line managers and supervisors are well informed and trained in what to do when someone does mention mental health. A recent survey created by Construction News along with Mind Matters found that whilst 67% of respondents believed awareness of mental health had improved between 2017 and 2018, 81% thought there was still a stigma attached. Whilst overcoming this stigma should be led from the top, awareness at all levels is essential in order to change the working environment.

Some in the group said it was possible for employers to promote positive mental health for little to no cost. For example, devising a wellbeing policy and establishing procedures can be enough to improve awareness and understanding of mental health issues. Policies also help create an environment where mental health can be spoken about openly.

"Whilst overcoming this stigma should be led from the top, awareness at all levels is essential in order to change the working environment."

Another point that was raised concerned flexible working and the positive impact this can have on mental health. There is a growing body of evidence which suggests that by increasing worker control and choice, perceived burdens and stresses can be eased. A 2010 study by Durham University found that flexible working had several positive effects on employee health outcomes, such as sleep quality, tiredness and alertness, blood pressure and mental health. It’s inevitable that such improved health outcomes will have positive impact on performance and productivity growth – something which the UK as a whole has been struggling with.

The real question is how organisations can implement flexible working in this sector. To some, flexible working is perceived negatively and there has been some discussion on how to overcome these dated attitudes. Undoubtedly there is no one-size fits all approach and some jobs in construction by their very nature will need to have more rigid working hours, but where possible, it has been shown that there are distinct advantages to offering a flexible working approach.

Group Participants:

  • Emma Scott-Miller, Project Manager, Gardiner & Theobald
  • Christopher Azzopardi, Assistant Development Manager, Canary Wharf Group
  • Emily Pallot, Associate, Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt
  • Pip Burrows, Interior Designer, IBI Group
  • Shadeyah Chin-Manahan, Assistant Quantity Surveyor, Rider Levett Bucknall

Table Mentor

  • Lucy Saunders, Consultant in Public Health specialising in transport, public realm and planning

Hear the NextGen perspectives on mental health and wellbeing in our new film

Look out for our next article ‘NextGen Perspectives on…Data and Smart Technology’ coming soon!

This topic and many more will be discussed in further detail at the London Real Estate Forum 2019, where G&T will sponsor the NextGen initiative for the fifth year running. Find out about last year’s event in our film and article.