Our mental health and wellbeing have never been so important.
The global pandemic has continued to impact many of us, both in our personal and professional lives, and there is a renewed focus on how individuals and employers can address mental health issues.
As an employer of more than 600 staff, we understand our responsibilities and have trained a sharper focus on mental health support and awareness for our people.
Although it is not an issue faced solely by those in the construction industry, it is highly concerning to learn suicide rates within the sector are 3.7% higher than the national average.
Research by the Chartered Institute of Building in 2019 found a staggering 26% of construction industry professionals had, at one point, considered taking their own life.
Given this dates back to before the Covid-19 pandemic, we must consider where these numbers are now.
Suicide rates within the sector are 3.7% higher than the national average.”
The reasons why construction workers are more likely to suffer from poor mental health are varied.
For example, there is a clear demographic link – suicide is a major killer for men under 45 in the UK and our workforce has a high percentage of people within this bracket.
But it is a complex issue which is not confined to any one group and, as such, we are actively promoting wellbeing for all of our employees, whether they are working in our offices, sales centres, our kit factory or out on site.
We believe support for mental health and wellbeing should be as prominent as health and safety on site.
As an employer in this thriving industry, we are committed to doing all that we can to protect our people and make sure they know there is always somewhere for them to turn.
With staff working across multiple developments throughout Scotland, from Dornoch in the Highlands to Duns in the borders, we have made a commitment to increase our proactive engagement with all employees.
Since the start of lockdown, we have worked to maintain and increase communication across the business and highlight the support available – such as our Employee Assistance programme, which can help to minimise isolation.
We have introduced a new system that alerts employees via text message when company updates are available, and we are looking to improve things further with the implementation of a company intranet.
These are simple and small initiatives, but effective steps to ensure our employees all feel engaged and to break down barriers of communication.
Our staff are learning more about mental health and ways they can be there to support their colleagues – and how to recognise the signs of someone who may need help.”
We recently formed a new partnership with the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity.
Lighthouse provides financial and emotional support to the construction community and their families.
We are supporting its work to deliver a range of resources for our employees, subcontractors and their families, including its helpline, app and free wellbeing and mental health workshops.
As a result of this partnership, our employees, subcontractors and their families have free access to trained professionals who are available 24/7.
Our staff are learning more about mental health and ways they can be there to support their colleagues – and how to recognise the signs of someone who may need help.
Perhaps one of the most important and impactful parts of this partnership is our commitment to mental health training.
We have already facilitated training for qualified mental first aiders, and by the end of January nearly 50 staff will have taken the course – including myself, our chief financial officer and three of our group directors.
Education and awareness
Another crucial strand of our activity focuses on education and awareness.
We have offered virtual mental health awareness courses to all employees.
We feel this is core to addressing the unconscious bias people often have around mental health.
It is unfortunate that stigmas still exist, and these can prevent people from reaching out and seeking help when they need to.
The best way to address this is by confronting and questioning our beliefs.
We know there is so much more to be done and that mental health issues are complex.”
Through education, we will help break down the unfortunate misconceptions associated with mental wellbeing and be better prepared to support one another.
We know there is so much more to be done and that mental health issues are complex.
There is no quick fix or singular solution, and it will take time for attitudes to change across society.
But we all have our part to play and by continuing the conversation, disseminating the right information and encouraging people to talk, we will make a difference.
Innes Smith is chief executive of Elgin-based housebuilder Springfield Properties.