The construction industry isn’t necessarily the first that springs to mind when we think about the kind of pressures that lead to poor mental health. But despite its stereotypical macho reputation, construction workers are as susceptible as anyone to mental illness: “We’re undergoing a cultural evolution.
We’ve a long way to go, but it’s not difficult to do these things because of who we are.”
Working away from home, long hours, pressing deadlines, environmental conditions and high levels of physical exertion are all known to contribute to stress and other mental health conditions. Indeed, people working in the construction industry are six times more likely to die from suicide as a result of depression than they are from falling from a height.
For this reason Lend Lease, the leading international property and infrastructure group, has invested a significant amount of time and energy in working out how to provide meaningful mental health support to its workforce. Bupa research among Lend Lease’s 13,000-strong workforce identified mental ill health, high blood pressure and fatigue as three health ‘hotspots’.
Lend Lease was a founder member of the CMHA in 2013 and one of the first things its newly formed Mental Health Working Group did was roll out Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training to help address the stigma associated with mental ill health and to create a group of individuals within Lend Lease who could act as a first port of call for people experiencing a mental health issue.
Martin Coyd, the company’s previous Regional Head of Environment, Health and Safety in Europe, takes up the story.
“We’ve now trained more than 100 Mental Health First Aiders in the UK, and every project and office now has a Mental Health First Aider on it. We’ve also done an executive programme, which involves putting the top 100 leaders through awareness sessions, and we’re rolling out MHFA Lite to our supply chain partners and involve them in our training programmes. We’ve just held our second annual MHFA conference where Mental Health First Aiders shared their stories, advice and best practice among each other — as well as offering mutual support.
We also had talks from a couple of motivational speakers — Matt King OBE, who, since he was paralysed in a rugby accident at the age of 17, has gone on to become a lawyer, charity campaigner and athlete; and John Stokoe CB CBE, a former Major General in the British Army and now an associate director of Lend Lease. As compelling as anything was a presentation from a colleague and Lend Lease Mental Health First Aider, who spoke about her battle in early life with an eating disorder. That was a real eye-opener for many people.”
Lend Lease has now trained four MHFA tutors and plans to train a further two. Martin himself helps train people in other organisations in the community around Lendlease operations including volunteers at The Royal Free Hospital and the Peckham Food Bank.
“Time is all any of us really have and giving it to great causes is consistent with Lend Lease’s values and vision, which is ‘To create the best places’,” says Martin. “We want to be measured on more than just our bottom line.”
The current leadership team are building on strong foundations. These values and vision were dear to Dick Dusseldorp, who founded the company in 1958. In 1983 the company set up the Lend Lease Foundation to look after employee and community wellbeing — and it was this Foundation that funded the MHFA training.
One of Lend Lease’s most recent initiatives is encouraging staff to take a ‘wellbeing day’ every quarter. Martin says: “This can be a very attritional environment and we trust and respect our colleagues who go the extra mile for us to take these days at their own discretion and manage their workload accordingly.”
The initiatives on mental health are part of a bigger health and wellbeing scheme that the company launched in 2014, since when employee engagement and commitment have both risen. But the business is on a continuous learning curve, says Martin. “We’re undergoing a cultural evolution. We’ve a long way to go, but it’s not difficult to do these things because of who we are.”