Best for mental health

Construction is a male-dominated industry with a high level of mental health issues. So what are the best employers doing to tackle it? We spoke to one.

Teamwork of the construction team must have quality. Whether it

 

4PS Construction Solutions puts workload front and centre of its mental health policies and offers a range of activities which are proven to boost wellbeing, from gardening to creative sessions. The focus on workload is refreshing at a time of increasing work intensity and is one of the reasons why the firm was named Best for Mental Health at WM People’s Top Employer Awards.

Over the past few years it has been developing tailored work plans which allow employees the chance to talk through their workloads on a regular monthly or fortnightly basis. There are informal one-to-ones with line managers, checking that workloads are manageable and whether support is needed. There is also a more formal quarterly review about how everyone is doing. In addition, employees are encouraged to ask for flexibility if they need it.

If team members are overloaded it might be that someone else on the team can take on some of their workload if they don’t have a lot on. The company also advocates for flexible deadlines where feasible, providing employees with the necessary space to maintain quality without undue pressure, and employees are encouraged to take regular breaks. For instance, there are remote wellbeing sessions, including yoga and mindfulness which link physical and mental wellbeing. Lunchtime meetings are discouraged – if people are regularly having lunchtime meetings, line managers will ask why.

Mental health support

4PS started running online mental health sessions during Covid, primarily for everyone working remotely and they couldn’t see how they were as easily as with face to face working. They organised a range of different events as well as one-to-one check-ins. Unlike many other employers, that hasn’t changed since Covid and the rise of hybrid working. 4PS has clear guidelines on remote working to ensure effective collaboration regardless of location and prioritises core hours for all team members.

The online mental health meetings are designed to be inclusive of all employees. 4PS employees come into the office between one and four days a week and about 20 of its 55-strong UK employees [4PS also has branches in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium] are fully remote. Around 25 people come into the office regularly and others come in once or twice a month for team meetings or other reasons and the company hosts bring and share lunches which often have cultural themes. Employees are encouraged to bring in and share wholesome meals, creating a sense of community and introducing everyone to nutritious foods.

Before Covid, people worked on two floors of the building. Since Covid, there is a big open office upstairs and the ground floor is designated as a collaboration zone for group events, lunches and training as well as tai chi sessions. Operations Director Val Clarke says Covid highlighted the need for more support in terms of wellbeing. Val is on the board and champions mental health at that level as well as being a mental health first aider. There are mental health champions and first aiders at every level and people are encouraged to do the mental health first aid training.

First aiders identify early signs of mental health issues, ranging from symptoms of stress and anxiety to more severe conditions, ensuring timely intervention. Equipped with the ability to listen empathetically and without judgement, they create a safe environment for employees to express their concerns. In moments of distress, they provide comfort, reassurance and valuable information about professional avenues of help. Beyond crisis management, they also champion positive mental health practices in the workplace, advocating for self-care and resilience. And they are trained to act swiftly in emergent situations, intervening in crises, such as potential self-harm scenarios, before medical professionals arrive.

“It is an inclusive programme and everyone can give their ideas about what we should do to encourage wellbeing,” says Val. There are forums for first aiders to share information anonymously and talk about general trends so they can support each other. Val says home life stresses tend to dominate.

What makes for wellbeing?

4PS takes a very broad approach to mental health which addresses some of the factors that improve wellbeing, such as doing something creative, like mosaic tile making, in-office massages or painting miniature figures, or something hands-on like gardening. The company has an on-site allotment which started during Covid and came about as a result of its work with those running the business park where they are based. Employees already attended yoga sessions and took part in their charity events, such as wreath making at Christmas.

In addition, 4PS has a ‘futures of 4PS’ group which is aimed at new joiners and gathers their views on the onboarding and buddying experience. “It comes under mental health because it is about helping people settle in and feel able to grow,” says Val. That group has also fed back on wellbeing activities, ensuring they have a voice from the start of their time at 4PS.

Graduate trainees are encouraged to take part in events and to come into the office more often. “The feedback from them is that they learn better face to face,” she adds, though the company also uses elearning programmes with cameras having to be on at all times in accordance with their remote working policy as part of their duty of care to employees.

New joiners have a coach/mentor on their team who offers both formal and informal mentoring and a buddy who may or may not be on their team, who helps with more general issues. The buddy system came about as a result of feedback from younger employees.

New joiners are encouraged to make checklists so they can see what they have achieved. Continuous learning is also a big feature of life at 4PS and this includes soft skills training such as sessions on time management.

4PS uses Officevibe to check in on employees regularly. It’s a survey tool which allows the company to see early on where any potential stressors are so they know if they need to take action. One issue that has come up a lot recently is financial stress, although 4PS is a Living Wage employer and pays relatively high salaries. “We have an open policy where people can ask for help financially and emotionally,” says Val. In the past they have helped with energy price rises as well as general cost of living issues. Officevibe also enables workers to raise issues anonymously if they are worried about anything.

Another way of boosting wellbeing is through workshops that focus on building team spirit. These are held in person two to three times a year and online at least once a year. There are also regular monthly quizzes, usually on a Friday at 4pm. These have included a live baking session. Employees can suggest activities and each team has a social budget which they can use to go out together as well as a team building budget. It is up to each team what they spend it on. These budgets were introduced in the last year and are being increased this year.

Business case

There’s a strong business case for all of these policies. The company has a 100% retention rate and an Officevibe score of 8.6 out of 10 on its support for mental health. Val says: “People are happier and appreciate the additional support.” This is at a time of upheaval, too, as the company, which was set up in 2000 and bought in 2017 by a Dutch company, was acquired by a larger group in the construction sector last year so has been dealing with a lot of change management.

“Ethically it’s the right thing to do as well as business wise. I don’t understand why more companies don’t focus more on mental wellbeing,” says Val. “The pay-off is clear. There is greater productivity and buy-in from employees because they can see that we care. It’s a win win.”

*4PS features in the WM People Best Practice Report, which is based on the Top Employer Award winners. It will be published later this month.



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