Mental Health Awareness MonthWhy do construction and maintenance have such a poor mental health record and how would greater diversity and inclusion help?
Why do the construction and maintenance industries have such a poor mental health record and how would greater diversity and inclusion help?
This could be long, get a cuppa.
There are so many reasons the record of poor mental health in the construction and maintenance industries is so high, and they knit together so it’s difficult to unpick.
In no particular order, and I’m probably missing plenty out…
In jobs often the pay is low or if self-employed there can be security worries even when pay is good
job insecurity (zero hours or contracts with bad conditions are common)
hard physical work can cause near exhaustion
long/unsociable hours lead to poor work-life balance
culture of being ‘strong’ where emotions are perceived as weak
lack of diversity causes a strongly conformist culture that does not accept difference
‘banter’ is often cruel and damaging – although it can also be the best part of the job
lack of nurture
self-employed can find admin load (of running a small business alone) difficult to keep up with
self-employed can suffer poor cash flow if admin load isn’t kept up with
householder expectations are that tradespeople will work evenings and weekends as standard
insecure contracts or working alone can lead to inability to have time off
householder expectations can be unrealistic – price wise, time wise, expertise wise
not everyone pays on time – rogue customers are real!
difficult to ask for help physically or emotionally
bodies wear out
lack of support from employers
lack of respect
Greater diversity can’t help with every single one of these points, but there are so many ways a more mixed workforce, especially one that takes account of being a parent would make a big improvement.
Let’s look at this from the perspective of women.
In particular since women are the ones who have children and are expected to take a larger role in childcare, hours that are flexible enough to make room for childcare would remove large amounts of stress. But men would benefit from more flexible working just as much, and it would even mean they can have more involvement with their children.
A culture that accepts women’s differences – smaller so may not be able to lift such big items but can get at difficult to reach places for eg could accept more the differences men have from one another too. Shock horror… not all men are the same!
Many men throughout the construction industry have reported that they feel they have to behave the same way and express the same opinions as the rest of the workforce they’re in. This inability to be oneself is a proven cause of stress.
Acceptance of differences though, can lead to a better, stronger team. All workers have different strengths and limitations – none of us are the same! Acceptance of difference and different ways of working increases the opportunities for learning – reducing potential ‘botching’. A culture that allows people to ask for help becomes a culture where standards can rise constantly.
Cruel ‘banter’ benefits no one and leads easily into bullying – we need to take on board that ‘banter’ that depends on focussing on difference can create a hostile environment. A hostile environment can make learning difficult and makes it more difficult for anyone to express their true feelings or insecurities.
While more diversity does not guarantee more acceptance, the inclusion needed for a diverse workforce to operate successfully needs a clamp down on cruel banter and support (rather than penalise) those who ‘call it out’.
Once asking for help is acceptable the environment can become more nurturing and it becomes easier to learn. Cruel banter being reduced or stopped altogether minimises the opportunity for bullying and again, increases the potential for learning and acceptance.
Asking for help with a specific job increases the possibility of asking for other kinds of help. Once one kind of vulnerability is accepted, there’s room for others.
Improving mental health is a process. No one thing is the answer. It’s complicated because people are complicated.
Changing the culture will improve the mental health record of the construction and maintenance industry as a whole – and make it a better place to learn in.
The cultural change that will welcome more women, and greater diversity generally, into the industry would make it a better place for everyone to work in.
It could even lead to an improved reputation, attracting more people of all kinds into the workforce – even helping to breach the skills gap looming ahead of us.
Who wouldn’t want that?