Are Middle East construction employers addressing mental health?

The Middle East’s construction employers continue to pursue skilled talent and employee loyalty, but are they paying attention to the mental health of their workforce?

COMMENT, Business, AESG, Construction, Mental heath, Mental illness, Middle East construction

As the US observes Mental Health Month 2018 this May, it is worth reviewing whether worker wellbeing initiatives in the Middle East’s construction sector are addressing the intangible aspects of employee satisfaction.

Workplace wellness measures – many of which are often tied to internal health, safety, and environment (HSE) programmes – are not uncommon in the regional construction sector. Some outstanding examples of these initiatives are BAM International’s Worker Wellness Programme and Carillion Alawi’s Tech Safety Initiative, which respectively won top HSE honours at the Construction Week Awards 2017 and the Construction Week Oman Awards 2018.

However, despite its inherently critical nature, onsite wellness is not the only factor that influences employee satisfaction. Dalia Wagdi, a WELL-accredited sustainability consultant at UAE-based AESG, says that outdoor conditions, in addition to office design and maintenance, are crucial to an employee’s mental health.

“Policies that can contribute to avoid stress [...include] having employee assistance programmes that refer them to qualified professionals who can assist them with anxiety and depression,” Wagdi tells Construction Week.

Construction companies in the Middle East must commit their resources to such plans, especially as market conditions continue to challenge regional executives. Mid- to senior-level professionals “consistently [encounter] a great deal of onsite and offsite pressures”, according to Aaron Chehab, chief commercial officer at KBW Investments. The “deadline-oriented” construction sector comes with “significant budgetary considerations and often, limited resources”, all of which may contribute to work stress, Chehab tells Construction Week.

“Long hours of work, coupled with the aggressive, male-dominated environment, can have an impact on individuals, causing excessive and needless stress, leading to anxiety. Considering the commercial, safety, and programming pressures exerted on a daily basis, companies operating in the construction industry definitely need to take all of this into consideration.”

Given the construction sector’s more conspicuous and time-sensitive challenges, mental health may not be the top priority for some HSE or human resources leaders in the Middle East. Some may choose to criticise this approach, but we are likely to see more positive and long-lasting effects if construction companies commit to finding ways in which the abstract elements of employee welfare can be enhanced.

While managing one’s mental health is an immensely private task, the world’s best employers are those that ensure work stress does not cause – or compound – their workforce’s mental health concerns. Support systems are important in an industry as competitive, complex, and people-reliant as ours – the Middle East’s construction leaders must champion the creation of these essential groups.

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