Whilst we are witnessing a change in the way businesses manage, company leaders are continuing to grapple with their own set of challenges too. The suicide rates among construction workers are three times higher than the national average, shedding light on the pressing issue of mental health within the industry.

Over the past year, mental health concerns in the UK have surged by 5%, causing a noticeable spike in absenteeism. It is understood that the recovery period for mental health issues is significantly lengthier—more than 7.5 times—compared to physical ailments. This starkly underscores the pivotal role of mental well-being in sustaining a robust workforce and ensuring economic viability for our businesses.

Construction remains one of the industries with the highest work-related fatalities due to safety risks in the workplace. However, suicide (and mental health problems) comes immediately after that, affecting thousands of construction workers every year. Experts attribute this grim reality to a confluence of factors such as a high-pressure work environment, remote work locations, a stoic work culture, and reliance on drugs and alcohol.

The construction field is fraught with multifaceted stressors, from stringent contracts and extended work hours to time away from loved ones and financial management. Compounded by the Covid pandemic and escalating supply costs, these challenges have intensified. Furthermore, the industry harbours a “macho” ethos that dissuades workers from seeking assistance, amplifying the strain on their mental health.

Recognising the urgency of the situation, employers and individuals must grasp the imperative of fostering mental health awareness and support. The statistics presented below, underscore the dire need for transformation within the industry, as highlighted by Mates in Mind.

Tragically, two individuals from the UK construction sector succumb to suicide every day—amounting to over 700 lives lost annually.
Construction leaders are facing an avalanche of employee demands for higher wages, mirroring the surge in prices for essentials like fuel and basic foods. This trend, originating in the public sector, has permeated private enterprise, leading to instances of labour strikes and threats of working to rule and limited cooperation. Concurrently, businesses struggle with the relentless challenge of maintaining financial equilibrium amid escalating material costs and fixed operational expenses, all while striving to uphold stable employment and deliver quality work to clients within contractual constraints.
Considering the backdrop and the financial implications from the pandemic and the tumultuous journey since the start of 2020, one must ponder how much more businesses can endure before succumbing to disillusionment and contemplating closure due to the mounting stress and challenges.

But who provides care for those in leadership positions?
Enlightened business owners, directors, managers, and supervisors are steadfastly dedicated to supporting their teams, many of whom they’ve collaborated with for years, forging robust and loyal relationships. However, recent studies indicate that numerous company owners have weathered threats to their livelihoods and mental well-being in recent years. The pressures stem from a blend of pandemic-induced uncertainties, escalating operational costs, and an economically uncertain landscape. While leaders are known for their adaptability, the formidable trials they face range from tardy or non-paying customers to limited access to financial support. These concerns are further exacerbated by personal uncertainties, restricted social interaction, and insufficient support networks, all of which take a toll on leaders’ mental health.
“I nearly became one of the tragic statistics in 2008 when I drove my company van with the intention of crashing into a roundabout, never to awaken again. Thoughts of my six-year-old daughter were the lifeline that pulled me back. I eventually confided in a friend who encouraged me to seek help,” recounts Dave Lee, author of “The Hairy-Arsed Builder’s Guide to Stress Management.” Regrettably, his story is a common one.
Anxiety and apprehension often haunt leaders within our Sector. The transient nature of the industry, marked by construction and repair projects that eventually conclude, underscores the impermanence of success. The prevailing sentiment is that one is only as good as their latest project, and job security remains elusive. Fluctuating profits and the potential for substantial losses on projects gone awry amplify the uncertainty. Despite these challenges, a profound passion and loyalty to the industry prevail.

Pointers for navigating the challenges
In navigating any circumstances, a leader’s survival hinges on qualities like resilience, empathy transparency, affiliation, and stability. The following pointers offer valuable insights:
Resilience – Take care of yourself first! If you’re not already, develop a greater understanding of YOU. Seek support and assistance when you are beginning to struggle. Always remember, you are not going to be in a position to help others if you are struggling!
Keep updated with ongoing industry developments. Don’t hide away when things are becoming difficult. It’s proven that informed people find it easier to find solutions rather than focus on the obvious problems.
Empathy – Leaders who develop empathy are often able to gain further support and commitment from those who surround them.
Communicate regularly with all of your colleagues and never be afraid to ask questions or call for support when needed.
Despite needing to fully comprehend others’ thoughts and issues, be wary of “taking the monkey on your back”!
Transparency – Leaders often feel that it’s better to keep issues private and have a fear of sharing. Being open and transparent within your business will often support shared solutions or lead to a greater understanding of the challenges being faced.
Affiliation – Speak with likeminded people in your peer group/business community. Being connected with others should help you feel and be supported. Feel comforted with the fact that you are NOT alone!

Stability – Despite navigating through difficult or stressful situations, its important that leaders are able to provide a sense of physical and emotional stability to those within their cohort. People perform better when they feel safe. Being openly informed, no matter how difficult the situation enables everyone to be emotionally aware of what’s happening.

Vaughan Hart
Managing Director, Scottish Building Federation & NFB HR Advisor