Sally Orton: Protecting the mental health of staff in the construction industry

Sally Orton

At surface repair and restoration organisation Plastic Surgeon, employee-focused initiatives are at the heart of our organisational culture, to ensure all staff are aware of the various methods of help available to them, both during and outside of work hours.

Our philosophy is to support employees without them feeling like they have to disclose everything directly to a manager or team leader. The firm partners with Health Assured to supply an employee assistance programme (EAP), a free 24/7 phone service whereby staff can share concerns regarding their mental health. The EAP also comes in the form of an app, which includes short wellbeing webinars. Plastic Surgeon also created an EAP brochure, to offer further details on the support this supplies.

The NHS waiting list for mental health counselling is 26 weeks, according to information published by NHS Wales in January 2019; with an EAP, however, employees can talk to someone within a day or two. They know they will receive help almost immediately after seeking it.

Our EAP is not just available to employees, but to anyone who lives with a member of staff as well. Family and friends, therefore, can access the available resources, helping alleviate the pressure staff may feel when supporting a loved one suffering with poor mental health.

In April 2019, Plastic Surgeon launched a mental health first aid champions programme, where one employee in each of the eight operating regions, as well as four from head office, received green mental health awareness pins. These champions are there to listen and support anyone who needs help.

Fundraising events for mental health charities are always a fun way of promoting the importance of mental wellbeing, while also being a great opportunity to bring staff together. A team of our employees participated in the Exeter Great West Run in October 2018, to raise money for the Mental Health Foundation; this created a collective culture, promoting mental health awareness and raising much-needed funds.

Going back to traditional methods of encouraging people to share their problems, such as through tea and talk events, is always an effective way of showing employees they are not alone.

Plastic Surgeon’s line of work requires staff to be out in the field much of the time, as is the case with the majority of construction organisations. Therefore, the organisation regularly provides employees with a little feel-good box, packed with coffee, biscuits and a leaflet about mental health. The concept is simple, encouraging people to take a break, have a drink and chat with someone. For those working alone or in small groups in the field, this is a practical way of showing that support is always available.

Every month, employees receive a newsletter that discusses mental health; these encourage an ideology of togetherness and can include real employee case studies. It is about breaking down the illusion that those in the construction industry are strong and in control, and showing that it is okay to be vulnerable and in need of help.

By implementing initiatives that create a culture of openness and camaraderie between staff, employers can foster a work environment focused on the protection and nurturing of mental health. This will ensure healthier business practices not just in the construction industry, but across all business sectors.

Sally Orton is HR manager at surface repair and restoration organisation Plastic Surgeon