A couple of years ago I had a discussion with a mental health charity on how they could help us with a program we were developing to enhance people’s wellbeing at Skanska. During the conversation I had a lightbulb moment, I realized that my view of mental health up until that moment was skewed. Whenever they spoke about mental health I was thinking mental ill-health. However, good mental health is something that needs to be protected, nurtured and worked with proactively. It is also something that is unique to each individual.
Unfortunately protecting people’s mental health, is these days a challenge that we face in society and very much in the construction industry. In the UK, one in six people working in construction have been diagnosed with a common mental health condition. And every year in construction, more people suffer long-term harm from work-related mental ill health issues than from work-related accidents. These could include, fatigue, stress or even anxiety to name a few symptoms. Even more alarming, a recent study found that people working in construction are six times more likely to die from suicide than falling from a height. These statistics are unacceptable.
Care for life – one of our key values
I am proud to work for a company that takes this issue seriously. At Skanska we focus on mental health because we care about our people and want them to feel well at work, but also because we want them to be able to perform at their best. We want to achieve an injury-free environment for all people, including subcontractors, all business partners and anyone who may be affected by what we do. This of course extends to our families and friends. I hear many stories from people who say that talking about mental health has made a difference in their private lives with families and friends. Being alert and aware of what is going on around us, as well as planning how we are going to work is really important when it comes to safety. This is how we work with mental health too. It is central to one of our key values that guide how we work - Care for Life.
So, how do you make sure people are open and honest about their mental health? Across Skanska we have been working with this question proactively and systematically. From working with a mental health organizations in the U.S., to virtual reality trainings in Sweden and Central Europe, mental health has been something in focus for some time now across the Group. In this piece however, I’m going to focus in on the impact we’ve made in the UK, because that’s where I’ve had the most direct experience in dealing with this question.
Engaging our people and building awareness
The first step in working with this is raising people’s awareness and acceptance that there is a crisis in mental health, within our industry. Whether we want to admit it or not, in some circles in society, mental health still has a stigma attached to it. But times are changing. In 2015 we started a mental health program in the UK and currently have 350 mental health ambassadors that help support other colleagues. Over 1300 Skanska people have now completed mental health awareness training, including 64% of all supervisors and managers. By 2020, all line managers in the UK are to have mental health training. Of course, our contractors are also invited to our training and given access to the material we have developed.
The training is delivered in a compassionate way and equips people with techniques that build confidence in people to allow them to speak up about their own issues, and to recognize some of the signs of mental ill-health developing in others. It also gives them ideas and ways of how you might cope with situations that may cause anxiety.
All those who have received training have responded positively as they see possibilities and benefits in their work life and home life. Earlier this month I received a letter from a colleague who as a result of receiving the training, felt confident to approach and speak to a stranger who was standing on a bridge and was about to commit suicide. Thankfully, the actions of my colleague helped to save a life of a complete stranger.
We also engaged a clinical psychologist to develop workshops in suicide awareness and created practical and helpful support packs. Over 300 people have currently taken the suicide awareness training.
Creating a culture of dialogue
Senior leadership, training, tools and resources are important. But to create real change we need to make sure we foster a good environment and an open culture where people feel safe to speak up and where people feel psychologically safe.
Our aim is to make it as natural to talk about mental health issues, as it is to discuss any safety issue. We work actively to change perceptions around mental health and as a result, we are seeing more people talk openly around this than ever before. The language is changing. For example, we host “Time to Talk events” twice a year where people are encouraged to take time out, to have a conversation about their mental health and how they ensure they maintain good mental health. Focusing on the positives and what makes us happy, really makes a difference.
Helping the industry advance
In order to drive lasting change, we also need to look at the wider industry and the role we have in making things better. In 2016, our Skanska UK President and CEO Gregor Craig signed the “Time to Change” pledge on behalf of Skanska to reduce mental health discrimination in the industry.
At a personal level I have been part of the Health in Construction Leadership group. One of the successes of the group was developing a charity called Mates in Mind, whose focus is to help smaller contractor organizations develop their mental health programs. We have been collaborating with the industry to raise the topic of mental health and in 2018, we launched a series of workshops to share our experience with supply chain partners.
Together with our partners, clients and peers we hope that we will be able to advance in mental health, and contribute to a safe work environment for everyone. That’s why I am sharing these examples with you. Safeguarding and promoting good mental health, while equipping people to support those with mental ill-health, goes beyond care for life. It’s also about building for a better society.
Although we can be proud of our work to date, as the general statistics show, it is something we must continue to work on. I want mental health to be something we think of proactively. Wellbeing is something that should be cherished and worked at continuously.
/Dylan Roberts, Health & Safety Manager at Skanska Group