October 22, 2021

How to manage stress-related sick leave in construction

Commercial director, Julie Lock at Mitrefinch, explains how poor management in the construction industry is leading to stress-related sick leave, and offers solutions for how employers can help to support their staff.

A study by AXA revealed that the construction industry is the third-most-stressed sector in the UK. Research shows that 82% of the workers in building and construction experience stress at work, and it is having a significant impact on their lives outside of the workplace too. Unable to switch off once a shift ends, 65% expect to be contacted outside of working hours, half feel anxious about their salary and 36% about redundancy.

MetLife claims that staff feel their employer’s behaviour had a negative impact on their stress levels, with stress accounting for 40% of all work-related sickness. It is clear that a significant number of workers have a poor relationship with their employers, and stress amongst staff has been allowed to reach such a severe level that time off was necessary. Stress can impact anyone and if left untreated, can lead to a range of more serious long-term illnesses such as depression, anxiety and heart disease.

The gender divide within construction adds to the existing stigma attached to mental health conversations. Construction is a male dominated industry, with women accounting for only 9% of the workforce. The Mental Health Foundation states that only one in four men who have experienced high levels of stress go on to speak about it with a friend or family member. For construction firms to see a positive change in employees and stress-related sick leave, acknowledging stress and offering mental health support for all staff is a necessary first step.

There are existing barriers that prevent staff from talking about mental ill-health at work. This could include feelings of embarrassment, the belief that their boss is unable to help, or the fear that it might negatively impact their career, and it falls on management to offer reassurance. Shifting the stigma around mental health at management level will not only improve relationships amongst staff, but also provide a much-needed outlet for men in particular to talk about their mental health in a safe environment.

To improve employee relations, it is crucial for management to empathise with every individual who is experiencing high levels of stress. Here are a few practical tips that can be implemented by construction firms, almost immediately:

  • 1-to-1 meetings

Casual and regular 1-to-1 meetings are a quick and effective way to track stress amongst staff. Every person will deal with stress differently and 1-to-1s will provide an opportunity for open communication and confidentiality amongst staff.

  • Performance reviews

Regular performance reviews with constructive feedback are an additional way to help manage staff workload, monitor individual progress and ensure that no one is feeling overwhelmed.

  • Employee breaks and holidays

To lower company stress levels, management should encourage their staff to take regular breaks on shift and holiday leave, as well as organise social events to build on staff morale.

  • Mental Health Training

To help create a workplace culture that is more aware and equipped to deal with mental health, it would also be beneficial for management to enrol in Mental Health Training and qualify a MHFAE-trained instructor.

Mark McShane, managing director of Skills Training Group said: “With research showing males in the construction industry are three times more likley to commit suicide than the average UK male, it is clear businesses must make their staff’s mental wellbeing a priority.

“One of the most effective ways employers can do this is by developing mental health first aiders (MHFA). A MHFA acts as a first point-of-contact for people with mental health issues, providing support and guidance to their colleagues. Although MHFA are not qualified therapists or counsellors they are trained to identify the symptoms and causes of mental health issues. As well as being someone to talk to, a MHFA also acts as a champion for mental health, helping to reduce any stigmas that may be attached to wellbeing issues – something which can be a particular issue in traditionally male-dominated industries such as construction.

“Although many businesses in the industry do provide mental health support in some capacity, having a MHFA who is working on site means they are able to reach out to colleagues who may otherwise be reluctant to discuss the issues they may be going through.”

Taking these steps to improve management relationships in the construction industry will not only tackle the stigma attached to stress, but also help to relieve the cause of it. By positioning the wellbeing of staff as a priority, it will support those who are struggling with mental ill-health, reduce stress-related sick leave, and ultimately, improve business.