Navigating Construction and Mental Health: My Journey to Prioritising Wellbeing 

The construction industry has always been fast paced, dynamic and demanding—and understandably so, it’s building new places for communities, new cities, crucial infrastructure, all which will impact society for years to come. As I reflect on my years in construction, however, it is evident to me that there is a profound transformation in how the industry operates today versus how it was 20 years ago, but there is still a long way to go, in my opinion. In particular, we still need to break traditional barriers to prioritise workforce wellbeing. 

Our traditional practices surrounding workforce engagement are being put under a magnifying lens and examined and the path forward needs to be one of intense change. The workforce is the most important asset of any construction site, and workforce engagement is the glue that holds the whole site together until the final handover.

The Considerate Constructors Scheme is aware of this, and that’s why we work with the industry to help it be more supportive, resilient, and forward-thinking when it comes to their workforce. The rewards of this process are a healthier, engaged, and more productive working community.

I personally believe, for example, that there would be benefits in changes such as replacing the old-school systems of fixed-time retainers and contracts with more flexible styles of working that promote the security and psychological safety of the workers on site.

I’ve always been a firm believer in the saying that health is your real wealth. In our highly stressful line of work, prioritising our mental wellbeing becomes paramount. A balanced approach, where technological advancements align with a genuine commitment to mental health and well-being, is the path forward. 

Balancing Health and Resilience

I have witnessed colleagues gradually start to put their health on the back burner. I’ve been there myself, put myself through prolonged stress to the point it affected my physical health. I then took a step back, reevaluated, and reflected on my work-life balance. As professionals in construction, we need to understand our own limits and communicate when we need to take a break. It is important to take time off and understand that doing so isn’t a weakness; it is a necessity for sustained and efficient performance. 

I like to think of it as the balance between pushing yourself and being kind to yourself. It is essential for professional growth to be uncomfortable for a period. However, understanding that with every growth spurt, a period of rest is important. An easy practice to implement here is to disconnect from work when on a vacation—like, completely switch off. Do not think about work. True recovery happens when you disconnect and return recharged.

Leadership's Role in Wellbeing

Leadership plays a significant role in creating a workplace where health and wellbeing are priorities. I've been fortunate to learn from great leaders who understand the importance of engaging with the workforce. It's about more than just project deadlines; it's about understanding the unique individuals building something together. Leaders need to make an effort to check in, have conversations, and show that they genuinely care. 

My advice to leaders has always been to personalise things. When leaders do so, individuals are able to see that the leadership really cares about them. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received from people I look up to is: always strive to find out two or three pieces of information which are important to the members of your team. Do they have a dog? How is their family? Do they have children? 

Leaders have the power to create an environment that fosters creative thinking by allocating time and resources for research and development. Adopting a culture of continuous improvement and celebrating innovative solutions, while keeping communication lines human, genuine, and open, will encourage individuals to contribute and promote a healthier and more productive work environment. 

The Importance of Expectations and Communication

Setting expectations and communicating is not limited to just work scheduling and project deadlines. It should expand to include basic things like showing up on time and having the right gear. When people know what is expected of them, it eases unnecessary pressure. 

An example of this is the Alcoa story. Paul O’Neill tenure at Alcoa is now the stuff of legends. For a time, he made his only priority reducing the number of accidents that happen at factories and made sure that was clear to all. He slowly but systematically built a habit of excellence, simply by prioritising worker wellbeing. This also forms a business case for the long-term payoffs that an organisation can unlock just by investing in their people today. 

Clear communication and setting the right expectations help ensure that everyone is on the same page. Workers should feel empowered to express concerns, share ideas, and discuss challenges without fear of reprisal. This open communication channel builds trust, strengthens team cohesion, and creates psychological safety. 

Advocacy for the Construction Industry 

Internal dynamics aside, we have a broader challenge—advocating for the construction industry. That is another challenge that we at the Considerate Constructors Scheme have embraced.

With technological advancements, sustainability practices and the ever-changing demands from buildings today, the construction industry is a lucrative option for career growth. We work hard to spread the word and change perceptions. Everyone must know how full of opportunities the construction industry is, and what a great place it is to work. How many other jobs make such real-world change and impact?

We make sure we showcase that at every opportunity, and by celebrating the outstanding work construction does with our National Awards, and by raising awareness of the available careers with young people, for example. But we also work with the industry to help it be the best employer they can be.

By limiting our focus inward, we often fail to realise the talent we’re losing out on. It is a vicious feedback loop. Subpar worker wellbeing initiatives create talent churn which negatively affects our perception and discourages talent from opting to work in construction; this, then, leads to unsatisfying leadership and worker dynamics, and the cycle continues. 

We need to take a step back, share our experiences, innovations, lessons learned, highlight our growth and positive practices. By doing so, we not only attract talent but also contribute to improving the overall reputation of our industry.

Gaps in communication, different ways of doing things, and hierarchies get in the way of good ideas flowing freely, slowing our projects down. I believe the next step in construction evolution is prioritising workforce wellbeing, fostering innovation, and smart problem-solving.

Amit Oberoi

Amit Oberoi is Executive Chairman for Considerate Constructors Scheme where he works to raise standards across the construction industry. Prior to his appointment to executive chairman in March 2023, Amit served as non-executive chairman since July 2022 and a board director since January 2022. Amit has over 20 years of experience in global risk management, including leadership roles across many sectors such as construction, technology, management consulting and national authorities. He has also worked across multiple markets with governments on high profile transformation and infrastructure projects, including the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. In 2016, Amit established a digital healthcare company which focuses on improving personal resilience and health.