‘Talking breaks’ could prevent loneliness in construction

Loneliness - Millcroft devised its mental health training for construction workers two years ago (Image courtesy of Millcroft Services)
Conversations with colleagues during coffee breaks can have a positive impact on mental health (Image: Millcroft Services)

Almost half (47%) of construction workers in the UK say they feel loneliness in the workplace – and 79% think that having the opportunity to talk to colleagues during breaks could prevent that.

The findings are from a study commissioned by Nescafé as part of the Make Chat Work campaign. It is an initiative by the coffee corporation in collaboration with the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), the Construction Industry Council (CIC) and the Federation of Small Businesses to help businesses foster wellbeing in the workplace.

It is based on responses from 350 construction workers and tradespeople working in UK SMEs.

The survey is a response to the third report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Issues Affecting Men and Boys. The Group recommends mandatory mental health sections on procurement frameworks in the construction industry.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows that the highest suicide numbers by occupation are among skilled construction and building trades. The figures include males and females aged between 20 and 64 in England.

Because construction is a sector in which men are overrepresented, the numbers add considerably to the overall male suicide rates.

Previous ONS datasets show that the risk of suicide among low-skilled male labourers, particularly those working in construction roles, was three times higher than the male national average.

Intersectional issues, including age, place, race and occupation, also affect the differences in suicidality for different groups of men.

Fighting stereotypes

The APPG report warns about the additional barriers and damage caused by media stories that negatively brand construction workers as ‘woke’ when they discuss their problems with colleagues.

Instead, the inquiry says that “the magic key to male suicide prevention” could lie in meeting men’s actual needs and accepting who they are, ”not who the system thinks they should be and what they should have to accept”.

Commenting on the Make Chat Work campaign, CIC chief executive Graham Watts said: “CIC promotes expertise and knowledge on topics that are of collective interest to the construction sector and wellbeing is a topic that impacts everyone in the industry.”

The Lighthouse Club charity, an organisation providing financial and emotional support to construction workers and their families, welcomed the initiative as an opportunity to ignite conversation around workplace wellbeing and the importance for people in the industry to talk more.

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, added: “Builders face many pressures in their day-to-day lives and it’s great that many FMB members share their own mental health challenges to help others. The FMB has also partnered with the Lighthouse Club as our charity partner to ensure mental health awareness is front and centre in the construction sector.”

If you’re in crisis and need urgent help, there are many helplines staffed by trained people ready to listen, including the Samaritans, available 24/7 on 116 123 (free from any phone).

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