Stress in Construction: How to Recognise and Manage Stress in the Workplace
Stress in Construction – World Mental Health Day
World Mental Health Day is an opportunity to highlight the importance of improving mental health well-being across of the globe. According to the World Health Organisation , the COVID-19 pandemic has increased both short and long-term stresses – with an estimated 25% rise in both anxiety and depressive disorders.
The construction industry is renowned for high levels of stress among workers. If not recognised and properly managed, stress can have serious implications for both individual workers and the revenue and productivity of a business.
Recent years have shown a steady increase in the rate of self-reported work-related stress, anxiety, and depression. According to research carried out by the National Building Specification, stress, anxiety, and depression account for one-fifth of work-related illnesses, resulting in over 70 million days off sick per year at an estimated annual cost of £70bn-£100bn.
“Stress, depression, and anxiety are the second biggest cause of work-related ill health in the construction industry. The earlier this problem is tackled, the less impact it will have on workers and business. Taking positive action can help to create a more engaged workforce, boost productivity, and save money.” Health and Safety Executive
We take a closer look at the issue of stress in construction:
• What is stress?
• Why is the construction industry stressful?
• Statistics – stress in construction
• How to recognise common warning signs
• Managing stress in the workplace.
WHAT IS STRESS?
Stress is something we experience when we feel under pressure, overwhelmed, or are struggling to cope.
Stress can be defined as“the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures of other types of demand placed on them.” Health and Safety Executive
Whilst we all feel stress at certain times, it is a problem when it becomes difficult to manage. This could be when someone is suffering from acute stress or chronic stress that lasts for a pro-longed period of time.
Whilst stress is not classified as an illness, it can make people ill. Stress can impact both our physical and mental health and cause people to develop mental health problems like depression and anxiety, as well as physical problems such as MSD’s (Musculoskeletal Disorders), insomnia, headaches, and digestive disorders.
WHY IS CONSTRUCTION PARTICULARLY STRESSFUL?
The construction industry has significantly higher than average rates of stress among workers. According to research , over half of people working in construction described experiencing mental health issues, with suicide rates among construction workers almost three times higher than average.
The way the construction industry is structured can make it a challenging and stressful environment to work in. For example, contributing factors include:
- Physically challenging and potentially high-risk work
- Demanding work hours with constant deadlines
- Job insecurity. High numbers of construction workers are self-employed.
- Some projects require working away from home for weeks at a time which can be isolating
- There is still a perceived stigma within the construction industry associated with talking about mental health struggles.
STATISTICS RELATING TO STRESS IN CONSTRUCTION
The statistics around stress within construction reflects the seriousness of the issue. Highlighting why mental health problems need to be recognised and proactively dealt with before they worsen with potential heartrending consequences.
- A third of construction workers suffer elevated levels of anxiety everyday1
- 48% of construction workers have taken time off owing to unmangageable stress1
- 44% of construction worry that their workload is too high1
- Over two thirds of constructions workers believe there is a stigma surrounding mental health which stops them talking about it1
- Over 50% of construction workers find it hard to talk about their mental health11
- Stress, depression, and anxiety are the second biggest cause of work-related ill health in the construction industry2
- Every single day, two construction workers take their own lives. That’s over 700 each year1
- Suicide rates for construction workers were found to be three times higher than average4.
- The risk of suicide amongst worked in construction is 1.6 times higher than the UK average5
RECOGNISING STRESS IN YOUR WORKPLACE
Learning how to spot the warning signs could help prevent stress escalating, leading to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
We’ve outlined some of the common signs of stress to look out for with your colleagues, contractors, and employees:
- Increased incidents of lateness and absenteeism
- A noticeable drop in performance levels or decreased focus on the job.
- Apathy, low motivation, and low energy
- Sleep disruption and or insomnia
- Visible changes in mood such as being withdrawn, irritable, tearful, or aggressive.
- Frequent health issues such as headaches and fatigue
- Increased instances of anxiety
- Panic attacks and palpitations
HOW CAN YOU HELP MANAGE WORKPLACE STRESS?
Employers play a vital role in helping to minimise and manage stress in the workplace. Recognising and preventing stress not only helps and protects the individual, but it also helps protect the business from absenteeism, poor performance, and reputational damage.
Duty of care
Employers have a legal obligation to provide duty of care to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their employees. This includes work-related stress which is now recognised as a health and safety issue.
It is the employer’s responsibility to make sure that the workplace is a stress-free environment. Employers are duty bound to conduct a risk assessment whereby they identify any risks that may expose an employee to stress and then take appropriate measures to control those risks.
Communication and education
Create an environment where communication is encouraged. Simply reaching out and having conversations with employees about how they may be feeling can have a positive impact. Opening dialogue around mental well-being will also help end the stigma that still exists around mental health.
The Health and Safety Executive emphasize the vital role education and training has in the management of stress. There are lots of resources available through the HSE such as their Talking Toolkit, which provides some helpful tips on how to start conversations with employees around work-related stress.
Mitigating stress with a healthy work environment
Reduce stress triggers by creating a workplace environment that prioritizes the physical and mental health and well-being of employees. For example:
- Ensure that job roles and responsibilities are clearly defined.
- Avoid overloading employees so they are not working overtime or taking work home with them
- Set realistic deadlines
- Create an environment where employees feel that they have a decent work life balance.
- Treat colleagues and employees with respect and recognise and reward achievements.
- Make communication a central part of your business – opening up conversations about mental health
As we have discussed, there is an elevated level of stress within construction – significantly higher than other industries. Learning how to recognise and manage stress in the workplace is essential to the health and well-being of employees and to the long-term success of the company. Opening channels of communication is one of the key ways to help mitigate stress and reduce the stigma still attached to mental health.
Please find below some helpful resources and links to support groups.
HSE guidance on managing stress at work: https://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/
HSE Talking Toolkit – preventing work-related stress in construction: https://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/assets/docs/talking-toolkit-construction.pdf
Building Mental Health Resources: https://www.buildingmentalhealth.net/resources.html
Lighthouse – The Construction Industry Helpline: https://www.constructionindustryhelpline.com/about-us.html
Mates in Mind: https://www.matesinmind.org/