The construction industry accounts for 13% of all workplace suicides in the UK. Physically demanding roles, working away from home and the reluctance to discuss mental health amongst a predominantly male workforce makes construction one of the most mentally challenging industries to work in.
BAM Nuttall, Volker Fitzpatrick, Morgan Sindall Joint Venture, on M5 Oldbury Viaduct in the West Midlands, UK trialled a wellbeing room in 2019. The wellbeing room created an informal, confidential, safe and secure place for team members to share their thoughts and feelings, seek help and support, and to help prevent anxieties from leading to mental ill health.
A key goal of the wellbeing room was to provide a direct support channel that was already available to employees. It also aimed to encourage effective peer support by encouraging all team members to not only look out for their own mental health, but also the mental health of their colleagues, as a cohesive team spirit and collaborative working attitude can help to promote early identification of issues. Our senior management team wellbeing champion the use of the Mental Health Wellbeing rooms, and actively encouraged participation.
Location is key
Wellbeing Room on M27 Motorway
The room was located on the compound near the reception, allowing team members to easily visit when either entering, or leaving the compound. The compound itself was a temporary works site, consisting of a large number of portacabins for office space, plant, and a car park. The room itself looks unlike any other room in the compound. It was inviting, comfortable, relaxing and looks more like the front room of a flat than that of a compound office, and was furnished with a modest budget of £1000, with furniture from the local Ikea, chosen by team members.
This allows visitors to quickly disassociate themselves from their work environment, which in turn helps barriers to be broken down regarding toxic masculinity behaviours and expectations when in the compound. The room is staffed during daytime office hours by a wellbeing champion (a trained mental health first aider), but was also open during the nightshift, providing a safe and secure place for team members to go. The contact details for wellbeing champions, who are also in the compound during nightshift activities, are published on the wall, making it as easy as possible for a team member to find someone to talk to.
Helping to normalise mental health support
The use of the room quickly changed from being ‘something new’ to a normal support facility, for all to use. Whatever the concern, however large the anxiety, the room was a safe and secure place for everyone to use, whenever they require it. The first three months of use saw a around 70 of team members having in nearly 250 conversations, sharing, and seeking support for, some incredibly complex personal and work related issues they were coping with.
Wellbeing Room on M62 Motorway
These included several who had been bereaved by suicide, attempted suicide, were contemplating suicide, had member of family feeling suicidal, going through divorce and relationship break up, child custody battles, serious or terminal family illness, gambling addictions, children being bullied at school, sibling in an abusive relationship, teenager self harming – it was a long list. Some just wanted to talk, most wanted help and support – which was given through referral to specialist services, counselling, the company EAP, specialist charities, the bank, and ongoing support provided by our trained Wellbeing Champions.
Across the workforce, the establishment of the Wellbeing room has resulted in not only direct help for colleagues who are suffering with mental ill health but led to multiple people volunteering their stories to share with the workforce and more people increasingly using our Wellbeing Champions.
The concept of the wellbeing room is now being rolled out to all larger sites and offices so we can continue to fully support all of our team members and employees and make our businesses and industry an amazing place to work.
About the author
Ruth Pott, LLM, FCIPD is Global Director – Mental Health and Wellbeing, Royal BAM Group. She has worked in senior HR roles for more than twenty five years in road haulage, trade association and civil engineering sectors. Ruth joined BAM Nuttall as HR Director in 2011. She was appointed as Global Director for Mental Health and Well Being for the Royal BAM Group early in 2019. Ruth is a Fellow of the CIPD and has a Masters degree in Law and is currently studying a Masters degree in Workplace Health and Wellbeing.
In her spare time, Ruth enjoys personal fitness, walking and exploring the beautiful English countryside, cycling and equestrian sports and spends time with her grown up daughters and wider family.