THREE in 10 construction employees who have suffered workplace bullying say the bullying was just labelled as ‘banter’. Industry workers have reported high levels of stress, anxiety and depression as a result.
The findings, from a nationwide survey, come as poor mental health in the construction industry reaches an all-time high, with over half of UK construction workers reporting mental health issues according to the latest data (2021)
Despite the construction industry’s continued efforts to tackle the rising issue and promote awareness of the problems, reports of bullying are only increasing. This is evidently taking its toll with three in 10 labourers suffering signs of depression and almost a third experiencing anxiety.
The Mental Health in the Construction Industry survey found only 7% of workers raised feelings of poor mental health with their HR team. Shockingly, when issues were raised, only 6% said they had sufficient mental health support.
The data was collected by London plant hire specialists Herts Tools, who surveyed employees from 88 construction companies in the UK, to highlight the impacts of poor mental health in the industry.
With the construction and trades industries traditionally leaning towards ‘manning up’ or ‘cracking on’ as solutions to mental health issues, the findings suggest this attitude is still very much present. 50% of workers between the ages 21-24 were found to be the worst affected by bullying labelled as ‘banter’.
Workers surveyed also noted the industry could improve its approach to confidentiality, with 56% of bullied employees wanting more privacy on issues raised. Even those who hadn’t personally been subject to bullying felt more could be done to improve confidentiality around sensitive, personal issues (36%).
Stefano Lobban, director at Herts Tools, said: ‘The UK construction industry is still experiencing a mental health crisis: workers continue to demonstrate a ‘suck it up and deal with it’ approach to poor mental health.
‘The findings from our survey highlight that workplaces could be doing more. They could encourage workers suffering to come forward and share their experiences of poor mental health issues and/or bullying by having more confidentiality measures in place. Companies could look at investing in workplace surveys, private spaces and more well-being measures, to give workers the opportunity to share any personal issues in a safe and supportive environment.
‘We just hope companies take these new figures as a warning and address their own workplace culture so these difficult and sensitive issues can be discussed.’
Kasia Richter, founder at Wellbeing Strategist, said: ‘Harmless joking is when it’s enjoyed by both parties. Banter can be a way of creating bonds by sharing experiences and exchanging thoughts and feelings in a way that is mutually accepted. Bullying starts when boundaries of respect are crossed and certain behaviour is harmful, causing negative feelings such as emotional pain, sorrow, guilt or shame.
‘To tackle any mental health issue, we need to know what exactly we are dealing with. Therefore the first step should be learning and discovering what the specific issues are. Communicating with employees is crucial to this. Creating a culture of openness and support is necessary in order for the employees to start sharing.
‘In addition, access to confidential information should be controlled and people who are handling confidential information should be properly selected, trained and supported/supervised. Company culture should include a code of ethics, which should be made clear from the start.’
Ian Hurst, co-founder at We are Hummingbird, said: ‘With regard to bullying, I believe it is essential to take the individual’s feelings into account. Ultimately, it comes down to the person. If the person feels they’ve been put in a difficult situation or embarrassed, emotionally aggrieved or affected by what’s been said to them, then that must be taken seriously by the organisation and classed as bullying. Steps should then be taken in a formal process, through HR, to deal with what has occurred, with the process formally logged and recorded.
‘If workplaces want to tackle bullying, they need to foster a company culture where complaints of bullying are taken seriously. Any complaints should be treated with a structured, formal approach and no excuses can be made for individuals. Comments such as ‘Oh, that’s just how he is’ aren’t helpful, and harmful behaviour shouldn’t be tolerated, no matter how senior the individual concerned is.
‘There should be a point of contact in any organisation who is the individual to go to with any concerns, complaints or worries about bullying. They should be open and approachable, so employees feel they can discuss things that are bothering them, in confidence.’
Where can construction workers seek professional support?
• Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity
The charity has been delivering charitable welfare and support to the construction community since 1956. The Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity is funded by the industry, for the industry.
• Mates in Mind
Mates in Mind is a leading UK charity raising awareness and addressing the stigma of poor mental health. We promote and lead on the development of positive mental well-being within the workplace. Mates in Mind works across industries, focusing on construction, as well as related sectors, including transport, logistics, manufacturing, and others.