Mental Health in the Construction Sector, by Gregor Craig, President & CEO, Skanska UK

Blog by Gregor Craig, President & CEO, Skanska UK. Re-published with permission from the Construction Leadership Council.

Following a visit the Construction Minister made to Skanska headquarters, I was invited to present to the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) on the issue of mental health in the construction sector.

In our society, we are broadly aware of how life pressures can affect our mental health and wellbeing. However, when we put the construction sector under the microscope, there is a stark and concerning picture.

*1 in 6 people who work in construction have been diagnosed with a common mental health conditions, while three times as many construction workers are more likely to commit suicide than in other professions. Furthermore, 89% of individuals will not disclose to their employer that they are struggling with mental illness for fear of being looked at unfavourably.

But what are the triggers that make these statistics so concerning?

There are several factors, specific to our industry, which have significantly exacerbated issues around mental health, such as:

  • Frequent working away from home for long periods, away from family and friends i.e. those that you usually rely on to listen when you have problems. The novelty of working away from home quickly disappears and can lead to loneliness and depression. Being away from your registered GP is also a practical issue which can cause “reasons” not to book an appointment.
  • At present the industry is heavily male dominated but men are much less likely to speak about personal issues and also less likely to visit a doctor. In construction, we do still have a long way to go before if feels safe to declare that you are struggling with a few issues if your colleagues are all men.
  • Removal of the ‘grandfather clause’ from the CSCS (Construction Skills Certification Scheme) card, means members will now need to consider (worry about?) having to achieve qualifications for certain jobs in our sector.

This is only a snap shot of the pressures that affect people in our sector and to uncover what is really affecting our workforce, we need to make employee wellbeing a priority. The statistic that still makes the strongest impact on me is that in construction, you are 6 times more likely to die from suicide than falling from height.

Having explained the extent of the challenge that we have in our industry, I also wanted to explain the amount of progress that is now taking place and to provide some practical steps that can be taken by all. Our sector is making significant efforts to raise awareness of mental health and to signpost people to further support. The registered charity, Mates in Mind is a good example of where the construction sector can get tailored help and support on mental health and wellbeing.

At Skanska, we are also making measured progress in changing people’s perceptions around mental health and, as a result, we’re seeing more people talk openly than ever before.

In 2016, I signed the ‘Time to Change’ pledge on behalf of Skanska to reduce mental health discrimination. This firmly declared our intention to make a difference and was the start of a more dedicated focus to tackle the issue within our business.
We currently have 332 Skanska employees, who are recognised as Mental Health Ambassadors, and over 1300 Skanska people have had mental health awareness training, provided by Mental Health First Aid England.

We have trained nearly 300 people in suicide awareness and have created practical and helpful support packs which are available to help individuals, teams and the business recover from sudden death or suicide.

Senior leadership is important, training is important and providing the right tools and resources is important but none of this will create the right environment for significant change without the right culture and the right values; a willingness to be open-minded, to listen before judging and to invest time in empathy.

As industry leaders, we have a duty to create the best possible working environment for everyone that works alongside us, where they’re encouraged to discuss mental health issues and get help where needed. I am pleased that our sector is now showing significant focus on this, and I’m encouraged with the supportive response provided by the CLC to a key issue for the sustainability of our people, our businesses and our sector.

*Statistics from Construction News Mind Matters Survey