Supporting Mental Health in Construction
Pain isn’t always obvious, especially on a construction site. Join Abbie Klein, Vice President of Benefits, Compensation, & Special Projects at STO Building Group and co-chair of the STOBG mental health committee, as she discusses the history of mental health issues in the construction industry with trained psychotherapist and lecturer, Beth Glanville and sustainability manager at Structure Tone London, Roseanna Hart.
Abbie KleinVice President, Compensation, Benefits & Special Projects
Beth GlanvillePsychotherapist, EMDR Therapist, Supervisor & Lecturer
Roseanna HartSustainability Manager, Structure Tone London
Welcome to Building Conversations, a construction podcast powered by the STO Building Group. On today’s episode, STO Building Group’s Vice President of Benefits, Compensation, and Special Projects, Abby Klein dives into the topic of mental health in construction with trained psychotherapist and lecturer, Beth Glanville and Structure Tone London’s Sustainability Manager, Roseanna Hart.
Abbie Klein (00:41):
Hi and welcome to Building Conversations, the STO Building Group podcast. I’m Abby Klein, Vice President of Benefits, Compensation, and Special Projects at STO Building Group and Co-Chair of STOBG’s Wellbeing Committee. Today, I’m happy to be talking about the increased focus on mental health and workplace wellbeing across our industry, and particularly at Structure Tone London. Our two guests today, Structure Tone London, Sustainability Manager, Roseanna Hart, and trained psychotherapist and lecturer, Beth Glanville. Well, let’s start if, Roseanna, we can ask you to just introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about your role and your background and what kind of led you to your commitment to wellbeing at Structure Tone.
Roseanna Hart (01:30):
Yeah, of course. Hello, as you said, I’m Roseanna Hart and I’m a sustainability manager for Structure Tone London. And part of my role is obviously looking after our environment and in our community, but a big part of that is also our people. And, and I think mental health is probably one of the biggest parts of looking after our people, not just from a business perspective in terms of making sure everyone’s happy and productive and all those things, but just as a compassion and it’s just really important to us as a business that it’s not only our employees, but also our sites.
Abbie Klein (02:00):
Thanks, Roseanna. And Beth, how did you come to work with Roseanna and Structure Tone London?
Beth Glanville (02:06):
Yeah, hi, so my name is Beth. I came to Structure Tone in the autumn of 2020 when the COVID pandemic was in full force. I’m a trauma specialist, a psychotherapist, and I’m a lecturer and I’m actually doing a doctorate in trauma psychotherapy. But I’m also a mental health and wellbeing consultant. And I have long experience of working with improving mental health in the workplace, which I do because this is where we can support many people that the psychological professions may not classically reach because many individuals in the workplace may not reach out for more traditional forms of psychological support, such as psychotherapy and counseling. So, I’m driven to reach and support these kinds of individuals in my work because we can really get to people who we may not get to if we’re just working within the consulting room.
Abbie Klein (02:57):
Great, thank you, Beth. I’ll add that from an STOBG-wide initiative, we are really trying to meet our employees where they are when it comes to wellbeing. As you said, Beth, many people don’t reach out and we have to reach them, especially now in the post-pandemic environment. Some people are really coming back to work in full force and other people are a little bit hesitant, let alone any of the internal or external struggles they may have had throughout. And as we come up on the holiday season, it’s always a time when those people who are suffering may be a little bit more hesitant to reach out. So, I’m glad Beth that you’re working with Roseanna and Structure Tone London to help reach those people. Roseanna, can you give us some background on the history of mental health in our industry and how you guys have really worked to attack the suicide rate and mental illness in the industry?
Roseanna Hart (03:58):
Yeah, of course. So unfortunately, the construction industry actually has the highest suicide rate of any professional in the UK. And more than 80% of construction workers have experienced stress at work. We’ve not had any cases ourselves on any of our sites or anything like that, but it’s just something that, as an industry we’re really, really aware of, it’s very common knowledge that this is unfortunately the case. And we find that part of the issues is that, as you said, most of the people who are struggling with mental health traditionally do not seek or express their feelings to others. We work in a traditionally male dominated world in construction. And so, it’s been really important to us as employers to cultivate a workplace environment in which our workers feel supported and comfortable discussing mental health issues. And also, to kind of break down that traditional approach to speaking out really.
Abbie Klein (04:52):
Beth, I know that your work is really more generic than within the construction industry, but when you did start to work with Roseanna and the office in London, was there anything that you needed to do differently to tailor your message to the construction industry or to Structure Tone London?
Beth Glanville (05:10):
It’s so important when coming into a new industry or organization to get to know the culture of a place and to get to understand the people that you’re working with. That’s absolutely key. And I can’t stress that enough. You know, you could have all the psychotherapy qualifications that you can get and you can have experience in all sorts of other industries, but if you’re not meeting, as it’s already been said, if you’re not meeting your people where they’re at, if you’re not getting to know an organizational culture, if you’re not getting to start to embed yourself within the practices of that culture and understand the people that you’re working with, then you may as well not bother to be honest. So for me, it was really starting to get to understand a bit about the background of the construction industry, a bit about how the organization works with employees and the contractors that they work with and getting to know the people who come to the sessions that I hold and start to connect with individuals. And that’s what’s really important when working within any industry, I believe.
Abbie Klein (06:15):
Thank you, Beth. Roseanna, maybe you can speak to how the increase in mental health awareness across the globe has impacted the way our industry approaches these types of issues.
Roseanna Hart (06:25):
Yeah, of course. So, I think the general increase in mental health awareness has definitely helped to reduce the stigma and it’s allowed us to really have the ability to have open conversations around mental health. So, there’s been a shift away from traditional construction practices, I think. And also, we’re seeing a massive increase in our clients as well. So, they’re targeting accreditation is like, WELL and Fitwell, which obviously have a huge amount of focus and emphasis on mental health. And I think what’s important is that the people who build those spaces also look after their mental health and we apply the same standards as we wish to deliver to our clients to our own staff as well. And so, I definitely think that’s helped the movement, particularly within our industry around mental health.
Abbie Klein (07:12):
That’s great Roseanna. I would say that it’s the same in the United States. We’re starting to see massive communication campaigns and resource campaigns with many of our trades, our unions, as well as our owners and certainly our general contractors to make sure that everybody on our jobsite is aware of the resources that are available to them and start to normalize these conversations when somebody is not feeling okay. You know, we want to make sure that we take care of them to the best of our ability, whether somebody is dealing with an addiction, drugs, alcohol, prescription drugs, maybe they started with just an injury and that has led to some dependency issues. How can we help them get back so that they’re feeling good physically, as well as mentally and emotionally? We’ve even started to work with many individuals who are feeling stressed about finances and some financial wellbeing, and then stress, of course, all of these issues that people are dealing with with stress and the mental stigma that comes with all of the stress, stress related to jobs, stress related to family and relationships, stress related to their children being home from school or them going back to school.
Abbie Klein (08:31):
So, there’s just so much that people are dealing with and we can’t necessarily get inside their heads but we want them to be able to feel free and come forward and talk about it just like they would any of their other struggles. What spurred Structure Tone London’s focus on mental health, Roseanna?
Roseanna Hart (08:49):
You know, our focus around mental health started a little while ago now before COVID. We’ve always been committed to making a difference. And I think what spurred that was when we signed our building mental health charter, and that kind of really laid the framework for the initiatives that we’ve kind of started on and so, training around site. We’ve also had a lot of mental health first-aiders being trained internally as well, so that people are able to spot any issues that come and are able to provide the advice, you know, just to seek help or offer the support that they need. And that sort of extended into carrying out awareness talks just because we recognize the importance of mental health and within our industry. But I think with the recent coronavirus lockdowns, it just became more and more apparent that people could be struggling, I think quite quickly.
Roseanna Hart (09:41):
And I think with the lack of social interaction that lockdown brought, and the dividing of our sites from those that we’re able to work from home, it was really important for us to reach out to someone like Beth to help us develop our mental health and wellness plan and that, you know, was adapted to those changes. So, what we wanted was for people to be able to help each other open up about what’s going on beside the typical pressures from projects that we were aware that they can bring, but we also wanted to be able to give our employees the coping mechanisms and the tools, and actually the confidence really to bring up and openly bring up any issues that they have.
Abbie Klein (10:20):
That’s great. And what a great word to use. The confidence to bring up any issues that they might have. I like the word confidence. Um, courage might be another one. So, thank you for that. Maybe we’ll start with Beth on this one. What has Structure Tone done to support workers mental health during and post pandemic?
Beth Glanville (10:39):
So, as I mentioned, I came on board about a year ago, actually, and I’ve been offering bi-monthly mental health and wellbeing webinars, webinars for obvious reasons, to staff at Structure Tone. So, these have been running on a drop-in basis. So, I’ve been running the same session three times a day on the days that I’d run them to catch as many staff as possible, where I’ve been covering topics with staff, such as stress awareness, building resilience, self-care sleep, hygiene, getting active. And generally, I’ll give a bit of information and we’ll be very, very discursive or we’ll talk and have discussion around a topic. Staff members can ask questions, share as much or as little experience as they want to, but I do encourage attendees to participate. I do like attendees to check in with just how they’re doing again with as much or as little as they want to say, but just to get a sense of kind of collegiality and as well, being a part of a group rather than me kind of talking at people. Sometimes we’ve got to use the sessions to do something fun together.
Beth Glanville (11:41):
So, we’ve had quizzes around holiday times, or there was a time I organized a scavenger hunt. So, people had to run off and find certain objects around their house and there’d be the first back to their computer. And somebody actually had a child present who got involved as well, which was, which was great fun. And this is great because you see actually wellbeing in action. So rather than just talking about it, we’re actually doing it, which is something that I think is really important within that vein. We’ve done quite a lot of little bits of mindfulness and meditation exercises as well, which staff have reported are really helpful just to have that moment to stop. Because again, we can get very locked into talking about a lot of this stuff and then not actually doing it, so we’ve done a little physical kind of chair based exercises as well in some of the sessions to get people moving and really in contact with starting to feel differently, right in that moment. Staff who have attended have said that they found not only the content of the sessions useful and stuff that they will take away and actually put into practice, but they’ve really got a lot from seeing and linking up with colleagues where they had been used to seeing people more regularly, maybe on a daily basis.
Beth Glanville (12:51):
And at times have just really enjoyed being around their peers and having a laugh, which is great because it links in with the evidence from neuroscience about the benefits of social interaction to good mental health. So even when we’re doing those things that are fun, and I say that like it’s a bad thing which it’s absolutely not, but like I say, we’ve actually got good mental health and we’re building our wellbeing in action at those times. And what I’ve been really impressed with actually is that I’ve had some attendees reporting that they’re attending sessions to get a sense of how their peers are faring. So, it’s really encouraging to hear that staff, that individuals are actually looking out for each other. And that wasn’t something that I particularly expected when I started the sessions. So that was great to hear. And it’s also provided an opportunity where people have actually felt that they can reach out and perhaps I’ve stayed online just to support an individual after a session, or somebody contacted me outside of session. So, there’s been that open door as well, where I can just support somebody or signpost somebody on to other support if and when necessary.
Roseanna Hart (13:53):
Yeah, and I just think, just to add on that from obviously as someone who would be part of those sessions from an employee perspective, rather than leading it, I mean, I can definitely attest to the fact that, you know, I think after a session you might have a call from a few people saying “are you alright?” And it’s definitely engaging on that communication, which I think has been really, really nice. And some of it, I think as well, is that we are doing, you know, we’re quite limited to a lot of the things that we would normally, you know, catch up on a personal level would be social events in person, which obviously became massively limited. So, we tried to come up with some things to kind of distract, but also, just to do some things we don’t normally do.
Roseanna Hart (14:30):
So, we did a pass the baton event virtually, and what that was was for 48 hours straight, everyone had to be running at certain points. There’s always somebody running, and you pass the baton to the next person. So, and we had this giant WhatsApp group, and I think there was a majority of the staff were involved on that one and your phone would be pinging at two in the morning, three in the morning, four in the morning when they were passing that baton and the feedback we had on that was just like, it just really further supported what we were trying to do with Beth and post pandemic, just in terms of what we’re trying to do to continue to support. We’ve just had a number of engagement groups off the back of the sessions, people were returning to work, continuing to work with Beth to find opportunities to continue to support mental health, adapt to coming back, and find opportunities to continue all the other kind of fun building and events and social stuff as well.
Beth Glanville (15:24):
Perhaps I should just add in that I did do my first, first face-to-face sessions in September for suicide prevention day as well. So, it was really great to actually come into site, into offices and actually meet people face-to-face for the first time and provide those sessions off screen for the first time, which was rather nice.
Abbie Klein (15:44):
That sounds great. And I love the fact that so many of your employees seem so engaged in the activities and are open to discussing in a group setting or in an individual setting, as they see fit, whether it’s for something that’s fun, like a scavenger hunt or for a meaningful session that can help themselves or their colleagues. So many times people talk about it and create awareness, which is great. That’s a great place to start, but action really makes people feel better. Some of the things that I have started to try and introduce here, we have our safety moments that kick off our meetings. So, I always try to put a mindful moment in instead of a safety moment, because I think when people are mindful, they are safe. So, it’s just a great way to kind of bring our safety functions, as well as our wellbeing functions together. Roseanna, how has the leadership of the London office help reinforce the message that mental health is a top priority?
Roseanna Hart (16:45):
Yeah, so the fact that we’re doing all these initiatives just shows how much, the massive, full support that we’ve really had from all levels and everyone, including senior management team, who’ve been a great support for us. And I think part of that is them attending some of the sessions themselves and having that presence and having those conversations that you might not normally would have had the opportunity to have in a group session. And I think what we’ve noticed in terms of reinforcing that message is the support and the outcome of those sessions. So I think we’ve definitely seen an increase in internal communications around mental health and in terms of our leadership, they all operate on an open door policy. And I think now, people would probably actually be taking them up on that, which is quite nice to see.
Abbie Klein (17:32):
That’s great. So, what do you think is next for mental health in our industry?
Roseanna Hart (17:38):
So, I definitely think we’re going to obviously be continuing our commitment to making a big difference to our support and to supporting our staff. Within our industry, there’s a lot of research going into what we can do and what the issue is. And I think that’s really important for us to align with research, to make sure that we are making the best impact that we can. And just being, I think proactively in the space is really important to keep an eye on what we can do. And it was mentioned before about getting up and doing the chair exercises and stuff like that. I think now that we’re able to move away from some of the more virtual events, which we’re still obviously engaged with, we’re trying to align our mental health program with our healthy living program as well. So, we’ve just started free exercise classes with our local gym. Last week, we had someone come in and do like a combination of yoga and Tai Chi in one of the meeting rooms, which is really interesting to do in the afternoon. And I think that’s just further kind of just shows really what we’re trying to, what we’re trying to achieve here, and by bringing down some of those barriers which might be traditionally there and yeah, it’s been really good.
Abbie Klein (18:48):
That’s great. That’s great for your physical health as well as your mental health that one, especially around the holidays, right? You can go out, exercise, help focus your mind, and also burn off some of the extra calories that we’re consuming at the holiday season.
Roseanna Hart (19:04):
Okay. I think I heard a statistic where it was like, I think nobody ever does exercise and regrets it, obviously, unless they hurt themselves or something like that, but yeah, it’s something that it just makes you feel good. So, yeah, it’s been really important to us to kind of do everything that we can.
Beth Glanville (19:19):
I was just going to add in there Abbie, that I’m in the process of developing a mental health and wellbeing plan for Structure Tone in London to take us through the whole of next year, the whole of 2022. So, we are going to continue to offer the mental health and wellbeing webinars, but they’re going to be quarterly so that we can increase our focus now on bringing people together, because as Roseanna has said, we want to bring people together socially as was done before the pandemic. So, I’m hesitant to say too much at the moment because the plan hasn’t been finalized, but my hope is that we can arrange more team building days, social events. I would like to include some training around developing and enhancing a really good mental health culture across the company at both an employee and a managerial level, if possible, and potentially have some events with guest speakers so that it’s not just people listening to me all the time. And as I’ve said, ensure that we do actually focus on the kind of the doing of the wellbeing. Not simply just the talking about it, but obviously a lot of that is already in place, as you’ve heard of Roseanna as well. So that’s what we’re kind of looking at going forwards into next year.
Abbie Klein (20:23):
And that’s really exciting, as we’ve mentioned a few times throughout our session today, as we’re headed into the holidays, you know, it’s a happy time for a lot of people but it also is a time where other people are struggling. So, we just like everybody to know that we’re here to help. And if somebody doesn’t feel so comfortable with what’s going on around them, that they can reach out for support, whether it’s to a coworker or a leader, there’s a number of resources out there for everybody as they get through the holiday season and really looking forward to what Structure Tone London has ahead for us. So, we can all learn from your experience and start putting some of those great sessions throughout all of STO Building Group. Well, thanks for a really great session today, Roseanna and Beth. We’ve learned so much and we really thank you for your time and expertise and sharing your experience with everybody.
Beth Glanville (21:24):
Thank you for having me today. It’s been a pleasure, it’s really good speaking with you.
Roseanna Hart (21:27):
Of course, thank you so much for inviting us. And I’m really looking forward to continuing it all on within the committee, so that should be exciting. Thank you.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, you are not alone. When seeking mental health services, your general care physician is always a great place to start. If for some reason this option isn’t possible, there are plenty of online resources available to you. For those based in the United States, you can find support through the National Alliance on Mental Health’s Helpline at nami.org/help. If you’re tuning in from the United Kingdom or Ireland, you can visit Lighthouseclub.org/get-help-now. Canadian listeners can find local resources through crisisservicescanada.ca. And these are just to name a few. Thank you for listening to Building Conversations, we wish you all a happy and safe holiday season.