Construction sector: Is the way you are working, working?

LW: Construction sector

 25th October 2019

Alex Elmywood, Commercial Director, Organisational Improvement discusses the role of leaders in helping create sustainable workplace wellbeing within the Construction Industry.

We all know the impact a happy and healthy workforce has on performance.

Our wellbeing influences the way we see our world, interact with others and undertake our responsibilities. Yet in reality – the pressure that many of us are facing at work is far from what we would consider conducive to a happy and healthy workplace. Competitive, high-pressure work environment; long-hours - particularly in summer months; high levels of alcohol use; end-of-season layoffs; separation from family - the list is endless and it all affects our wellbeing.

Occasionally we are inspired by individuals who have been able to create a life of balance and purpose. Many of us look on in envy as we struggle to see past our day to day responsibilities and how such a life could be possible. We block out the possibilities and continue to juggle our proverbial balls, hoping that the few we occasionally drop don’t cause too much of a ripple. And worse still – we learn to accept and tolerate the things in our world that cause poor wellbeing such as our energy levels or our mood.

And whilst we advocate individuals taking ownership of their own self-care, companies do have a role to play in supporting and guiding wellness.


Over the last 20 years, Organisational Improvement has been helping companies with the concept of healthy workplaces. Not a day goes by when we don’t see a fabulous example of great practice. Nowadays, many businesses have wellbeing programmes and advancements in thinking have seen a rise in both the psychological and physiological aspects. So why do we continue to see absenteeism linked to mental health and stress-related illnesses increasing?

It has been identified that within the construction industry, 1 in 6 employees is currently experiencing depression, anxiety or other stress-related problems; with male site workers three times more likely to commit suicide than the average male in the UK (Mates in Mind, 2019).  And according to the Health and Safety Executive, in 2016/17, the sector lost 400,000 working days due to stress, anxiety or depression – the equivalent of losing 1,600 full-time workers each year.

It's true that businesses are starting to put a lot of effort into support wellness, however, the intention often fails to change the culture or beliefs and as such has limited impact in changing behaviours in the long-term. Our work with construction companies across the UK has identified the incredible impact that leaders can have on a company’s ability to adapt and embed wellbeing principles – both positively and negatively and it is them that will help a strategy succeed or fail.

There are two questions which companies should consider when it comes to wellbeing: how confident and capable are leaders at supporting and guiding people effectively? And through their own values and behaviours, are leaders seen as an advocate of health and happiness?


Confidence and capability:

In 2018, HR Director Magazine suggested that 64% of construction workers want better physical and mental wellbeing support from their employers and yet 73% construction workers felt their employers did not recognise the early signs of mental health.  More worryingly in 2018, Construction News claimed that 24% of construction workers stated that they had considered taking their own life, a figure which rose to 32% when the respondents were working for companies that employ fewer than 100 staff.

Developing capability is not about increasing the number of mental health practitioners. It’s about developing leaders knowledge and skills to get the best out of our people. We recognise that training plays a part – particularly in recognising the symptoms of ill-health. But it goes much deeper than this. Leaders need to have a genuine interest in the people around them and buy-in to the value of workplace wellbeing. The Leading Well programme uses a five-step guide:

Understanding the whole person:

How well do your leaders know the people around them? Gone are the days where we leave our troubles at home. We recognise wellbeing issues can be linked to personal circumstances and this affects the way that we behave, interact and engage with others. Encouraging leaders to develop their knowledge of the whole person will enable them to provide support in a much more holistic way – and in turn, have a greater opportunity to maximise an individual’s performance at work.

Recognising the signs:

Lack of confidence stems from three things:

• Lack of knowledge of an extremely complex area;

• Fear of saying and doing something wrong – and making matters worse;

• Lack of proactivity resulting in issues escalating.

Knowledge will enable leaders to be much more proactive in the way they support people – making it much more manageable and less intrusive.

Tackling the stigma of mental health:

There is no doubt that it is starting to be tackled – however, there is still a long way to go. In a 2018 survey by Construction News, 63% of respondents did not tell their employer the (real) reason for their (mental health-related) absence. It is the role of the leader to stand up and challenge the negative views that sharing mental health concerns is considered anything other than positive. Sharing our own vulnerabilities is a step towards tackling the issue.

Building trust, honesty and openness:

None of the above can happen without the foundations of positive and constructive relationships. Developing self-awareness of how actions and behaviours instil trust or indeed distrust.

Keep it simple:

This is not about creating an overcomplicated process. This is about having a chat – having a genuine interest in

the person in front of you – without judgement or prejudice. Being able to listen and offer the support that’s

needed – whether that’s an ear or indeed signposting them to professional help.

Role models

We recognise the important role of leaders to create mentally healthy workplaces, but who is looking after

them? The ones that are looked upon to be role models are often the ones with the poorest wellbeing. How can

a company be truly happy and healthy, if its leaders are not? Only when one is in control of one’s own psychological and emotional wellbeing can you start to support the wellbeing of others. It’s like the gas mask on the plane – you need to put your own on first to ensure you are safe before you can support others.

Many factors contribute to a person’s likelihood of developing a mental health condition but the high demands of a leadership role, the squeeze on time for self-care, poor quality sleep and diet and the fact that it can be

lonely at the top, all combine to increase the risk. This is an area which is lacking in many wellbeing programmes. Offering leaders the time and energy to look at their own physiological and psychological wellbeing and helping them make the steps changes necessary in creating a happier and healthier workforce that’s driven from the top.

Our Leading Well programme, delivered in conjunction with Manchester Stress Institute is designed to meet these increasing needs of leadership teams in driving a cultural change to ensure workplace wellbeing is truly embraced.

For more information contact


“Some tough topics – well delivered. Challenging, thought-provoking followed by meaningful actions to implement and make a difference”

Chris Howard, TPG Engineering | Leading Well Programme


“Very informative and eye-opening to issues we tackle every day.”
J Barlow, Premier Screen Ltd | Leading Well Programme


“I have absolutely loved this course. I can honestly say, I have never been as engaged on a work-related course. I have learnt many simple life changes that will greatly impact my workplace and emotional wellbeing. Thank you!”
Lisa Hough, Fourteen IP Communications | Leading Well Programme