Constructing plans to tackle mental health

MALE construction workers are 1.6 times more likely to take their own life than the average UK male, according to research from the Office for National Statistics. The same report found that a quarter of construction workers have considered taking their own life, and that one in seven within the industry knows a colleague who has taken their own life.

“The general mentality of construction professionals is ‘get on with it, get cracking and everything will be OK’.  On the surface that seems to work, and it’s seen as a positive spin on things; but if there is an issue, or someone is tired or not feeling so good mentally – that sort of mentality creates bigger issues down the line and if that’s happening 20 or 30 years into someone’s career and they’re never really expressing their feeling or views, then that’s when mental health issues can occur,” explained Chris Fawcett.

Formerly an engineer, project manager and site manager, at 29-years-old he decided that the construction industry needed help. Having studied for a degree in site management at university, he retrained as a neurolinguistics practitioner, with the intention of acting as a qualified mental health professional whilst remaining with hammer in hand and hard hat on head.

“When you’re on site, in the trenches, and everything seems to get on top of you, it’s having somebody to take a step back say ‘let’s have a minute, let’s breathe and formulate a plan to help the situation’. 

“That often needs someone externally, as everyone else is tied to the company; the programme; making and not losing money – having someone external, but who is aware of the situation, and understands the industry helps. That’s why I focused on the construction industry, as I work in it and know the stresses and strains people go through,” Chris added.

Now operating as a freelance construction worker, he is currently on site with a major national contractor. His construction experience and qualifications, coupled with his mental health expertise, were attractive to the contractor, who have a partnership with the NHS mental health trusts. Yorkshire Water has also been in contact, over the possibility of workshops being incorporated within their business. 

Chris Fawcett
Chris Fawcett

“In my degree I don’t recall there was any emphasis on mental health – I don’t think it was ever mentioned,” Chris said. “Certainly, working for main contractors over the years, again mental health has not been very popular. Safety, in terms of doing things in the correct way, has always been paramount. If the worker on site isn’t feeling at their best mentally then they can’t necessarily make the right decisions, and potentially make the wrong decision leading to a potential accident on site – so I believe that if we get the minds right in the sense of each individual person working effectively and positively, then safety should come and improve from that.”

The premise of Chris’s coaching is to find out where someone currently is in their life – not just to hear where they think they are, but to truly identify where they are through extensive dialogue.  From there, Chris makes them envision what they want in the future – something he says often leads to the person underestimating their potential, to which he then utilises extensive and realistic planning on how they can get reach their genuine potential, to remove any clouding and doubt. Because he studied in neurolinguistics, he is able to understand the significance of what someone says, and determine whether that is genuinely what they think.  

His experience in the industry coupled with his mental health knowledge allow for him to draw out detailed plans on how to reach targets such as promotions, starting-up construction businesses and managing personal or business finances – these can be delivered via group workshops or individual sessions, as well as virtually.  

“I’ve had a few initial sessions with quite a few people who put limits on themselves – in terms of salary, sales or turnover – they can’t see in the future how they make this money, but the idea is that you work a plan back from where you want to be. It’s all about working out where a person is and formulating a plan from there.

“It’s not about putting words in people’s mouths; it’s about understanding and trying to establish what they are saying and why they are saying. 

“With the neurolinguistics training, that’s something that you learn to explore; to try and explore what someone is saying and if that’s what they truly mean.

“When you start to dig and probe and to try and establish what the actual meaning is, a lot of people put up smoke and mirrors and give a reason that is not the actual reason and we do it naturally, but as a coach your job is to explore that and really understand what they mean.”

Chris’s own plan was a bold one.  By his own admission, he could’ve been in his role of a site manager without remaining at school past age 16, followed by three years at university and the subsequent ‘£30,000 of tuition debt’.  So, to then go on and lengthen this process by adding an additional, and niche, qualification to his site manager credentials was risky.

“My old manager gave me all the wishes in the world and hoped everything would go well, but his words were that he thought it was 20 years too soon,” he recalled, continuing, “Irrespective of whether or not it’s too soon, I want to be at the forefront of it and ensure it’s driven in a way I visualise it to be in the future. 

“There is an uphill resistance within the industry, but everyone I speak to loves the idea and wants to incorporate it within the business.”

Despite initial doubt, Chris believes that there is a change in attitude on show within the industry, whereby talking about problems is no longer a taboo.

“I think there has been a shift over the last couple of years. I know that talking about things to someone helps me – one of the key things is that when we talk about feelings, events and stories, we don’t tell it in a negative form; when we do that we are reinforcing that fact in a negative way, so we’re putting more harm on us.”

It’s not just plans of clients Chris draws up; he very much has his own future mapped out. He doesn’t speak with a hint of arrogance, merely the positivity of someone content with the path they are on. 

“I visualise three goals. One of them is holding a retreat to Bali in January which I’m doing with my fiancée; the second is to work for the Tony Robbins companies as a coach; and the third goal is to have a six-storey office block near the sea in Australia – where it’s got a bar on the rooftop, and on a Friday afternoon we all have a beer. That’s ten years from now, but within five years I’ll be working across the world with multiple businesses running construction coaching across the world. It makes me smile.”

Here are Chris Fawcett’s seven top tips for construction workers: 

1) Morning routine

Allow yourself at least five minutes every morning to think about all the amazing things in your life such as your wife, kids, house, car, pets, garden. Ideally, writing these down helps you focus on what to be grateful for. Also, writing down your BIG GOALS for the day and WHY – by having a reason to achieve your goals is everything, and getting excited about your goals gives you more drive to achieve them and absolutely smash your day!

2) Exercise

Construction is often early mornings, late nights and can be strenuous on the body, but exercising has so many positive benefits – all of us should be trying to do something. This doesn’t mean everyone needs to go lift heavy weights; there are so many options of exercise that can even be done at home. A 10-15-minute HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout three times a week over a six-month period would have major benefits towards a worker’s physical and mental wellbeing. We have so many activities available to us such as walking, hiking, swimming, cycling, spinning, yoga, football, rugby – the list goes on. The main thing is we have options and not having enough time is not a good enough excuse anymore. People like The Body Coach (Joe Wicks) have revolutionised the fitness industry with quick, easy and nutritious recipes combined with fast and effective exercise.

3) A CAN-do attitude

Instead of saying ‘I can’t do that’, ask yourself ‘How can I do that?’ When we ask how to solve a problem, we start creating ideas and collectively we create even more ideas as a team. People often ask the question ‘Why can’t I do it?’ Whilst we are asking these types of questions, our brain will continually search for reasons not to be able to do it. Spend 90% of your time on the solution and 10% of your time on the problem – life will become much simpler!

4) Food is energy

The quality of the food and drink we consume provides us with the energy for life. If the food and drink that we consume regularly is of poor quality such as being high in saturated fat, high in sugar, high in aspartame (sugar free energy drinks), contains colourings/flavourings etc, this is going to give us poor unsustainable energy levels. Everyone loves a full English breakfast, but afterwards you feel sluggish, low on energy, tired and de-motivated. We then produce poor results, and when compounded over 5-10 years, can really harm our productivity, reputation, quality of work and career.

5) Enjoy what you do

Construction is an intense industry withgreat pressures put on the workforce.  We choose how we feel about every situation; we can choose to be sad or happy with the click of a finger. If we try and enjoy our time at work, life can be truly transformed from trying to see the good in every situation. We spend on average 75% of our waking day at work. Wouldn’t life be amazing if you were smiling and enjoying life whilst you were there?

6) Believe in yourself

We all have unlimited potential within us to achieve anything we want. We put so many limits on ourselves on a day-day basis; everything in the world begins with an idea. The construction industry has so much potential and so many talented people within it. Believing in an idea, a plan, a strategy, a way of working or a new product could change the way the industry thinks. Think BIG and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise, you can do it!

7) Night-time reading

Reading for 10-15 minutes before retiring to sleep can help switch the mind off from the day. Reading something positive, whether it be an autobiography, personal development book or educational (book), helps to reduce stress, increase brain power, improve creativity and has also been linked to a reduction in mild anxiety and depression.