At a time when mental health and wellbeing are already a key concern within construction, it’s never been more important to push industry-wide collaboration in an effort to tackle collective issues and to create a healthier future for all of us. I am thrilled to be taking up a role on the board of trustees for the Pagabo Foundation – the charitable arm set up by national framework provider Pagabo that aims to tackle the social stigma of addressing personal mental health issues within the industry. 

Statistics released by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) show that as the sector deals with the fallout from the current health crisis, these issues had already become  critical. The report – Understanding Mental Health in the Building Environment – demonstrates the severity of the crisis with statistics showing 26 per cent of construction workers had experienced suicidal thoughts and 97 per cent had experienced stress over the past year. There are countless external forces that can negatively impact our mental health – creating a perfect storm of stress, anxiety and depression. Whilst the construction industry has many dynamic rewards and career opportunities for people working within it, it also provides a challenging and pressurised lifestyle.

Across the wider corporate landscape, we are seeing increasing efforts from businesses in supporting employees in staying well through proactive mental wellbeing strategies and initiatives.  They are responding to a societal shift in the growing awareness of the need to carry out more regular self-care and talk about mental health more frequently.  Nearly half of respondents to the Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2020 reported feeling stressed all or most of the time, citing family welfare, long-term finances and job prospects as primary influences. The report showed that half of those surveyed see stress as a legitimate reason to take time off from work, and that almost one third actually did so in the last year.

There is a strong link between company culture and staff openness on mental health concerns. The Deloitte report showed that those who cited stress or mental health as the reason for work absences were three times as likely to say that their employer provided strong mental health support. The needs of those in the construction industry are no different - workers and professionals within the industry want better physical and mental health and wellbeing support from employers.  They need more routes to support, better job design, increased safety and improved balance with their home lives.  

The Foundation has an important role to play in supporting changing attitudes towards mental health in the industry.  Wellbeing initiatives remain patchy.  The Foundation’s work in recognising the importance of the issue, raising awareness, fundraising and investing in supportive charities will crucially help drive momentum in this area.

Having worked as a HR professional within the industry for over 10 years, I have seen first-hand just how severely mental health can affect people and how people can leave it too late, until crisis point, before they reach out for support. At Pick Everard, we’re making strides forward in our wellbeing offering – to place emphasis on self-care, building personal resilience as well as speaking up sooner – be that with a line manager, Mental Health First Aider or through our Employee Assistance Programme.  We’ve established support plans and a dedicated wellbeing portal on our People Hub, providing resources on wellbeing and advice on how to access other support services.  We also provide toolkits on staying well and resilience, for people to use by themselves or with a supportive colleague.

I am really looking forward to bringing my professional HR experience to the Pagabo Foundation and learning from the different perspectives around the table, as well using our collective strengths to make important leaps forward.  There will be a huge educational aspect to driving this change within construction and it’s an area that I am personally very passionate about. Reiterating the importance of speaking openly and honestly about how you’re truly feeling will no doubt help to create more trusting and supportive environments for both men and women to operate in. 

Everyone should feel confident and able to express their feelings and the funds raised by the foundation help to signpost people towards getting the help and support that they need. 

Elizabeth Hardwick-Smith is Director of HR & Training at Pick Everard