As Men's Health Week gets underway, industrial tool supplier Zoro shares actionable tips for employers to protect the wellbeing of their staff. 

After years of going under the radar, the men's mental health crisis is getting discussed more openly in mainstream media. While dealing with mental health conditions is hard for everyone, many men feel under pressure to keep their feelings to themselves, which ultimately can lead to them struggling for longer. The crisis is so severe that suicide is currently the leading cause of death for men under 35 in the UK, according to Safeline.

But male mental health statistics are even worse for men working in the construction industry. Recent research has found that 58% of tradespeople have experienced poor mental health, and 91% experienced work-related stress at least once a month (according to a survey by Ironmongery Direct). These statistics show just how vital it is to safeguard men in the industry and employers are in prime position to help do just that. 

Mental health training

Mental health is a complex topic that often feels uncomfortable to talk about. That is why so many men prefer to sweep their issues under the rug and ignore them until they reach breaking point. The truth is that many of us don't truly understand mental health issues. This makes it even harder for people to talk about their own experiences, as they may not know how to express their feelings.

To help workers understand their own mental health, and spot when someone else may be struggling, employers can provide staff with mental health awareness training. Not only will this help break the stigma surrounding the topic, but it will help team members look out for each other.

This is important for all workers, but especially for team leaders who are there to support their colleagues. Mental health training courses are beneficial for the whole team, and they take up very little time. Many courses take just half a day, and some can even be done virtually.

Enough time off

Whilst some businesses were forced to shut completely over lockdown, many construction companies reported being busier than ever in 2020. Although this sounds like good news for the industry, it is anything but that if it is damaging the mental health of workers. Recent research by PBC Today has found that construction workers are more at risk of suffering from burnout than people in any other sector.

As such it is even more important that companies obey the laws on maximum working hours. Employers cannot make employees work more than 48 hours per week, and workers must have either one full day off a week, or two per fortnight. Although these conditions seem more than reasonable, unfortunately many construction companies have been found to break them.   

Employees should also be encouraged to use their paid time off. A study by Glassdoor found that on average, UK workers use just 62% of their holidays. Managers should take the lead in using their annual leave, to show workers that it is okay to do the same. Employers should also remind staff they have a right to take sick days for both mental and physical health. And if it seems like work is getting on top of employees, managers should aim to lower their targets, or assign more resources, to ensure that staff don't spend hours doing overtime to catch up.

Wellbeing services

Having a supportive workplace is vital for employee mental health. Giving team leaders mental health training and encouraging workers to communicate with their manager about mental health issues is a great way to protect the mental wellbeing of staff. But some people find discussing mental health issues with people they know far too uncomfortable. The provision of a workplace wellbeing service is a good way to help these employees get things off their chest.

There are many companies out there dedicated to workplace wellbeing that can be accessed for a reasonable price. They offer a range of services, including counselling, life coaching, and wellbeing resources such as podcasts and articles. As well as implementing wellbeing programmes, managers should also encourage workers to protect their mental health outside of the workplace by visiting their GP. This can be further facilitated by employers being flexible when it comes to GP appointments.

A positive safety culture

Protecting mental health in construction isn't just about giving workers ways to talk about their issues. Managers should also aim to reduce employee stress by protecting their physical health at work.

Construction is one of the most dangerous industries in the UK, with workers being four times more likely to die in a workplace accident than any other industry, according to the Health and Safety Executive.

To keep employees safe in the workplace, getting the right equipment is vital. High-quality tools bought from a trusted supplier with workers are fully trained to use the equipment are a first step. Employees should also be provided with the appropriate protective equipment to wear at all times, and clear signs should be displayed around the building site to keep workers aware of the dangers of their surroundings.

Kelly Friel, Digital Product Manager at Zoro, reinforced that advice: "The recent statistics on the mental health of men in the construction industry are devastating. Managers should respond to these stats speedily and effectively, by prioritising safeguarding in the workplace. Providing mental health training is a great way to start. This will help employees spot when something doesn't seem quite right with their colleagues, and it will help them understand their own mental health too.  

"Looking after employee safety is absolutely crucial for protecting mental wellbeing, especially in the construction industry. Workers should always be provided with reliable tools from a trusted manufacturer. And make sure to supply them with high-quality protective clothing and equipment, such as safety goggles, ear defenders, and work boots."