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“Bullying starts when boundaries of respect are crossed and certain behaviour is harmful”

by Jennie Ward

Survey shows one in five construction employees have suffered from bullying in the last year, impacting their mental health, so what can be done to tackle this?

A nationwide survey from London plant hire specialists Herts Tools shows  21% of construction employees have experienced bullying in the last year, whilst half of these suffered from anxiety or stress as a result, with just 6% saying they had sufficient mental health support from management and HR.

The findings, announced ahead of World Mental Health Day on 10th October, come as poor mental health in the construction industry is said to have reached an all-time high, with over half of UK construction workers said to have reported mental health issues in the last year.

Despite the construction industry’s continued efforts to tackle the rising issue and promote awareness of problems, Herts Tools says one in three workers have reported feeling chronic stress, anxiety, or depression.

London plant hire specialists Herts Tools surveyed employees from 88 construction companies in the UK, to highlight the impacts of poor mental health in the industry.

Herts Tools says with the construction and trades industries still leaning towards ‘manning up’ or ‘cracking on’ as solutions to mental health issues, almost 1 in 10 workers said bullying was just labelled as ‘banter’. This problem was reportedly worse for those starting out in the industry, with half of 21-24-year-olds experiencing bullying, whilst non-UK citizens are said to be almost twice as likely to be bullied at work, with 31% of non-UK passport holders falling victim, vs 18% of UK citizens.

Workers surveyed by Herts Tools also noted that 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 wellbeing measures, to give workers the opportunity to share any personal issues in a safe and supportive environment.

“We just hope that companies take these new figures as a warning and address their own workplace culture so that these difficult and sensitive issues can be discussed.”

Kasia Richter, Founder at Wellbeing Strategist, said: “Harmless joking is when it is 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, or 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’ are not helpful, and harmful behaviour should not be tolerated, no matter how senior the individual concerned is.

“There should be a point of contact within 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.

Find out more here

  • 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 wellbeing within the workplace. Mates in Mind works across industries, focusing on construction, as well as related sectors, including transport, logistics, manufacturing, and others.

Find out more here

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