It is Mental Illness Awareness Week in the US, and unfortunately, the construction industry has a poor record when it comes to mental health. Everyday stress levels tend to be high, and construction has the second highest suicide rate in the US – after farming, fishing, and forestry – with 53.3 workers out of every 100,000. This compares to an average suicide rate of 12.93 people per 1,0001.
At Soben, remote working is part of our everyday life. It allows us to be responsive and flexible as a company and means we can employ the very best people, wherever they are located. But from a mental health perspective, remote working has both benefits and challenges. We asked our CEO of Americas, Joe Cusick, for his top tips for staying healthy in the mind.
While everybody appreciates there is a link between a healthy body and a healthy mind, it can be difficult to break away from your PC and get your body moving. Some people prefer to exercise indoors, in a gym or a swimming pool, but I like to get outside and walk the dog. I also enjoy running and cycling.
If you invest the time, there will be payback: endorphins that improve mood and reduce stress. It helps to get into a routine. You could plan to head out early in the morning, at the end of your working day, or even halfway through the day – if you can manage it.
2. Reap your rewards
There are lots of reasons why some people prefer remote or hybrid working. For me, it’s a chance to see more of my family. For others, it could be the opportunity to spend more time on a hobby, care for a relative or avoid a long commute to work.
It’s easy to slip into a pattern of long hours and overwork and then forget to do those things that make remote working valuable to you. Try to take stock every so often and ensure that you are making time to do the things that you love – other than work, of course.
3. Set boundaries
One of the most common causes of stress is a feeling of loss of control. Counter that by setting boundaries, not just in the hours you work but also in how you communicate. It can feel like you are contactable by everyone, every hour of the day – which isn’t always healthy.
Set yourself some rules of engagement. If one of my team contacts me out of hours with an urgent need for advice or support, I would answer that message instantly. But non-urgent messages can wait. Likewise, set boundaries for the use of communication media. Perhaps use emails for non-urgent queries and Teams instant chat for urgent ones.
Working remotely is great, but we miss meeting up with our colleagues. We are building a team, developing a culture, and establishing relationships daily. This isn’t easy when we are remote, so it’s vital that we take the time to engage with and support each other.
4. Behaviour barometer
Some stress can be a good thing, but when does stress cross the line into damage? Elevated stress levels over prolonged periods mean high levels of cortisol, which can lead to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety and also physical health issues.
If I feel a little grumpier or less sociable than usual, I try to work out whether I’m pushing myself over that productive stress line. And if I am, I try to pull back. (There are online tests that could help you assess your mental health, such as those provided by Mental Health Information2). It’s equally important to look out for behavioural changes in your colleagues and follow up if you see any.
At Soben, we conduct an anonymous quarterly survey of all our staff to measure current sentiment on issues such as fair work-life balance and stress levels. The results would alert us if there is a cultural problem and help inform our future policies and approach.
5. It’s good to talk
Even the most experienced of us need to talk sometimes. Whether it’s a colleague at your company or a trusted member of your professional network, just talking through a problem or issue can help bring clarity.
Human contact is perhaps even more important when we are working remotely. Younger people who don’t have an established network of contacts are likelier to feel lonely3. This is something we are acutely aware of when people join our Soben team. Our line managers act as mentors and coaches to answer questions and check in regularly with new team members as they learn their roles.
Few people would carry on driving if their car’s engine temperature warning light was on or the tyre pressure was low. And yet, in our industry, we often battle on with poor mental health, telling ourselves that it’s part of the job. If we take positive action to maintain good mental health, our performance and efficiency will benefit – and the journey will be more enjoyable all round.