The mental health conversation has come to the forefront, and it’s about time! We discuss how the Facilities Management Industry can tackle issues of mental health in the workplace. 

Every year, approximately one in four people in the United Kingdom will experience a mental health problem. Roughly, 13,000,000 adults will suffer – often in silence –  afraid of the stigma that is attached to this complex issue. While still a taboo inducing topic, it is becoming more openly discussed, and recent research has revealed the depths of how poor mental health is affecting the facilities management industry today.

According to figures, 64 per cent of construction workers have claimed they want better physical and mental wellbeing support from their employers and nearly 400,000 worker-days are lost every year due to poor mental health. Research has also uncovered that male site workers in construction are three times more likely to die by suicide than the average UK man.

There is an evident lack of support for workers in the facilities management industry which is affecting not only their wellbeing but also productivity and effectiveness. Most businesses spend a sizeable amount of budget, time and effort guaranteeing the satisfaction of customers, so why wouldn’t they afford the same consideration to employees?

Guaranteeing employees are satisfied assures a longer tenure and fewer resources invested in recruiting. With the increase of mental health officers being appointed in the construction industry, it is essential to understand that employee wellness goes beyond typical health benefits. Companies must go all-in and foster a work environment committed to long-term employee wellbeing, making it easier to attract better workers, increase employee retention and nurture company loyalty.

However, despite mental health becoming an increasingly discussed topic, it is still one that proves challenging to tackle. 31 per cent of building engineering firms find on-site mental health issues “hard to manage” while CIPD research data indicates that the number of people saying they have experienced mental health issues while in employment has increased from a quarter to a third from 2011 to 2016.

The industry would greatly benefit from more transparency and an open channel of communication. A common source of angst for workers today is feeling like they cannot achieve a satisfactory work-life balance.

Mobility has the incredible potential to encourage a more direct level of communication and a more flexible workspace. When workers are not restricted to a physical space, and technology is used to streamline what used to be a long, chaotic process, it becomes a lot easier to achieve the work-life balance that many desire.

Job management apps can support workers’ wellbeing by improving efficiency and reducing stress. With apps that are location tracked it is possible for employers to monitor team members and identify any unusual behaviour, helping keep everyone safe. In addition, it is possible to follow when workers are being more efficient and based on that information, create a more time-effective scheme.

It is also critical, however, that employers support clear “off” times where employees can unplug and recentre, which can be achieved by encouraging small pauses during work hours. These could be in the form of lunch breaks, “brain breaks” but also equally important, taking time off work – and remaining genuinely disconnected. Incorporating relaxation into the daily routine as opposed to promoting it as a reward is key.

While mobility supports a flexible workspace, employees can feel more inclined to keep working at all times and in all places. The capacity of working from a mobile device creates an environment where workers are expected to respond to emails and resolve issues during non-work hours, leading to unhealthy expectations and a veiled obligation of always being available.

Other actions that can be taken to guarantee a happier, more motivated workforce include providing workplace therapy, creating “safe spaces” and making sure HR is working for the best interest of the workers. Emma Dallimore, facilities manager at Hull and East Yorkshire Min, has invested in a quiet area room which staff can use for up to half an hour to sit and think, catch up on emails or make a call.

Modern technology – when used with discernment – can allow workers to do less without affecting the quality of the outcome. Communication tools, such as real-time job management applications, automate processes so employers can spend more time and energy focused on the more human-related aspects of the job. As a result, workers will experience better mental clarity, and fewer instances of stress, anxiety and depression.

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