Drop the swagger and look after each other, Ipswich builders told

Simon Girling, director of SEH French Construction

SEH French Construction boss Simon Girling is trying to instil more empathy in his workforce - Credit: Pagepix

Construction workers are being urged to be more open and drop the masculine swagger as a leading company tries to improve builders’ mental health.

Ipswich-based SEH French Building sent all its directors and managers, — including contracts and site managers — on a two-day training course to improve awareness of mental illness across the workforce.

The firm — which is part of One Group Construction — says it wants to tackle masculine stereotypes and is calling on other businesses to follow suit.

Director Simon Girling pointed out a “grossly disproportionate” number of men took their own lives in 2019 at around three quarters because they didn’t feel comfortable enough to talk openly about their emotional struggles.

Just a third of NHS psychological therapy referrals are for men, he pointed out.

“A sad truth is that almost all men will have been told to ‘man up’ or ‘toughen up’ at some point in their lives,” said Mr Girling. “But a stiff upper lip doesn’t help those of us who are struggling with mental health.

“In a male-dominated industry, more construction workers are killed by suicide than falls each year so it’s vital that we all work hard to tackle this by taking a new approach to mental health in the workplace.”

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Mr Girling — who has worked in the sector for 30 years — said his firm had developed “a genuine culture of empathy that must be instilled on sites across the nation”.

The company’s training has included exploring the illnesses that poor mental health can lead to — and tell-tale signs.

“Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 and male construction site workers are three times more likely to commit suicide than the average male in the UK,” Mr Girling said. “These harrowing figures struck a chord across our group.

“As a responsible employer, we fully understand the necessity to treat our staff as equal human beings and not just workers – this aim was underlined once more by our training.

“Since taking part in our training course, the working cultures in our offices and on our sites have shifted hugely. Our teams are now much more open to talking to one another about their problems and are all fully aware that it is okay to struggle from time to time.”

He added: “It is time for the men in our industry to stop worrying about being masculine and start worrying about being there for one another. Let’s show less swagger and more sympathy.”