“My vision is to have mental health literacy across our network to cover all sites at Skanska, and ensure resources are available to everyone no matter where they work.”
Tricia O’Neil, Head of Health Risk Management, Skanska.
Started MHFA England training
Staff trained so far
Skanska is one of the world’s leading construction contractors and developers. Their people are the heart of its business, which is why it places such a strong emphasis on creating the right working culture. By doing this, their 3,300 UK employees feel valued, able to contribute and reach their potential.
In 2016, Skanska began a campaign to place greater focus on mental health and wellbeing and remove the stigma attached to mental ill health. In February of that year, it became one of the first construction companies to sign the ‘Time to Change’ pledge, after Skanska’s President and CEO, Greg Craig, had been inspired to act by his personal experiences of mental ill health.
After data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that those in the sector were particularly vulnerable to mental ill health and at higher risk of suicide,Head of Health Risk Management, Tricia O’Neill, joined Skanska in February 2015. It was her role to lead the redevelopment of the organisation’s health and wellbeing policy.
She recognised the unique challenges that can impact the wellbeing of people in the sector:
“As a contractor, you are starting new jobs all the time and having to drop into new places and sites without a network. It’s more difficult to build communities, and you will spend long periods away from your family, friends and your GP. If you’re only there for a few months, people may not get to know you either, meaning recognising someone is struggling and offering the right signposting becomes more difficult.”
Tricia recognised the need for training to be part of the Skanska approach. After arranging a focus group to discuss the possibility of introducing mental health training, Tricia was pleased with the enthusiasm:
“60 people turned up, so it immediately felt like we were beginning to talk about the right things. We booked some half day courses with MHFA England, and by May 2016 we had developed our mental health network and had a real groundswell of positive opinion.”
Through MHFA England training, Skanska began to empower a network of mental health ambassadors with the skills and knowledge to spot the signs of stress and anxiety. They could also offer support and guidance to a range of wellbeing facilities offered by Skanska. These include the employee assistance programme run by UK provider Health Assured, which offers around-the-clock support and counselling.
Since 2016, more than 55% of employees at Skanska have been trained in either the MHFA England Mental Health Aware course or as Mental Health First Aiders. It has been a KPI for all line managers and executive staff to attend MHFA England training and now Skanska is aiming for more than 75% of all employees to have attended the Mental Health Aware course by the end of 2021.
“My vision is to have mental health literacy across our network to cover all sites at Skanska, and ensure resources are available to everyone no matter where they work,”
Already a sector at high risk of mental ill health, the pandemic presented new challenges to Skanska and the wider industry.
“The pandemic made work difficult for a lot of contractors,” says Tricia. “Many workers went home to Europe, meaning workforces that were already reduced had additional pressures. With office staff having to work from home, accommodation and travel becoming more difficult, and hygiene concerns, this had an impact on people’s wellbeing.”
To improve ways of working through the pandemic, Skanska partnered with Loughborough University and other leading construction firms to conduct a report on Covid-19 and construction in August 2020. Skanska have since embedded its recommendations to increase productivity, improve hygiene and working from home practices.
“We’ve definitely found some smarter ways of working as an industry, which will hopefully improve wellbeing in the long term,”
The cultural shift at Skanska since training has been implemented has been noticeable, with a wide breadth of people taking the training and finding it engaging, informative, digestible and relatable.
“We can make sure that employees and our contractors know where their support measures are. One of our contractors who had a resource card and contacted the Construction Industry Helpline, said that no other organisation he has worked with had shared anything like it, and he may have taken action if he hadn’t had it,” Tricia reflects. “We know that the impact is being felt outside of the four walls of our organisation and we hope long-term this will help support our supply chain.”
As well as training, Skanska is involved in national mental health initiatives such as Mental Health Awareness Week and arranges regular community events for colleagues to discuss mental health and wellbeing. The approach has extended to wider wellbeing projects such as the ‘Out of the Blue’ intervention packs, for leaders to prepare teams should a potentially traumatic event such as a sudden death or suicide occur.
“The construction demographic is more likely to be at risk of these events, so we wanted to work with our senior leaders to feel equipped to approach this sort of situation, identify what people would need at certain points, and empower themselves with training to support the mental health of their teams. We started the programme in 2018 and our mental health ambassadors are integral to that support system, and everything we do at Skanska.”
To further support their network, Skanska has also developed an app which will capture the wellbeing challenges that staff are experiencing, what resources they are using, and whether those trained in MHFA England skills feel confident to provide support. Tricia aims to continue to build on the cultural shift and embed and improve the work they are doing.
“How do you measure success?” asks Tricia. “I think the fact that I can stand in a coffee queue at Skanska and hear people talking about their mental health is the biggest testament. You certainly wouldn’t have heard that five years ago.”
Find out more about how to transform the mental health of your organisation