Four Ways to Truly Improve Onsite Wellbeing in 2022

Blog-January 17, 2022

Mental health and wellbeing is a serious problem in construction: everybody knows this, and we’ve discussed the reasons why at length in our articles about mobile welfare units.

But acknowledging this problem and actually dealing with it are two very different things. The stats on onsite injuries and mental health issues have been available for years, and the industry has yet to make a decisive shift towards prioritising employee wellbeing – despite the widespread availability of many resources, like innovative welfare units.

It is time to change this.  Promoting Health and Wellbeing is even included as one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – and that has to mean something. 

As the new year begins, we believe contractors and organisations must take decisive action to truly put wellbeing at the top of their agendas. That means more than keeping workers safe – it means truly adapting the physical and social environment of worksites to meet employees’ needs.

Here are four important steps you can take to increase wellbeing on your site:

1. Be honest about the problem

The first step towards truly prioritising onsite wellbeing is accepting the scale of the problem. As our research shows, men in construction are roughly 3x more likely to commit suicide than the average population, and construction workers make up roughly 16% of all male suicides. 

Improving wellbeing is not simply a technical challenge – these issues are deeply embedded in the culture of many sites. So rather than looking for quick fixes, we need to see this as an ongoing task of adaptation and education. 

Leaders should seek to truly understand the conditions that create such poor wellbeing: long hours on precarious contracts; chronic loneliness; physical fatigue; and a culture of repression and fear. This will help them properly acknowledge the scale of the problem and formulate better strategies to address it.

2. Promote open dialogue

Events like ‘Time to Talk Day’ are all about raising awareness of mental health struggles. The message is simple: we need to be able to talk openly about our wellbeing. And that very much includes the workplace.

Just 5% of employees tell their employers when they experience mental health issues. This level of suppression is only going to exacerbate the problem – as well as creating a sense of isolation and resentment amongst workers. 

In order to change this, leaders should take a varied approach. You cannot simply force people to talk if they aren’t ready to, so there should be a wealth of options for workers to communicate with the leadership about problems they face.

3. Dedicate more resources to wellbeing

There is no getting around it: onsite wellbeing is directly connected to the quality and quantity of facilities workers have access to. Isolation and a lack of communication are inevitably worsened by small, cramped spaces which do not allow employees to be comfortable – even when they’re supposed to be having a break. 

A simple example to improve this is by upgrading your mobile welfare units. With more space and more comfortable seating, employees will be able to properly relax in their downtime. It will also help foster a sense of community and openness, which may lead to better communication.

Better mobile welfare units may also provide better facilities. While things like access to hot water, canteens and WCs may appear like small things, they can have a big impact on employees’ sense of autonomy and safety.

4. Give employees more flexibility

Among the chief causes of negative wellbeing on construction sites is the stress and physical exhaustion that comes from long, gruelling hours. As other industries embrace flexible work patterns, construction leaders should also look to offer employees more control over the hours they work.

Part of this is relieving some of the pressures workers feel onsite. It is common for contractors to expect employees to work to harsh deadlines – even if there are delays in the delivery of materials or planning errors. But this creates an unfair expectation, and is a sure sign that you are not truly prioritising worker wellbeing.

Addressing such problems is likely to have a dramatic impact on factors like absenteeism and work-related sickness, as well as improving loyalty and creating a more positive culture onsite. Along with more open dialogue and better mobile welfare units, this will go a long way to demonstrating that you are taking seriously the wellbeing of your people.