How Laing O’Rourke tackles mental health

1 February 2019 | By Silvana Martin

Addressing mental health issues in construction means reaching out to a wide workforce demographic, explains Silvana Martin.

Silvana Martin

Male site workers in construction are three times more likely to commit suicide than the average UK male, according to Office of National Statistics data.

With 8,000 employees, Laing O’Rourke is one of the UK’s largest construction employers and we take our responsibility of workforce wellbeing seriously; we invite challenge and interrogation of our practices from Mind by taking part in the charity’s Workplace Wellbeing Index.

In 2015, Laing O’Rourke tried to engage employees in dealing with specific areas of mental wellbeing and help overturn the stigma around mental health issues and illness. Last year, we were awarded Silver in Mind’s Wellbeing Index, which demonstrates the impact we are making.

Also in 2018, we piloted a six-month lifestyle change to encourage adoption of a more physically and mentally healthy lifestyle across our workforce. The 320 people who took part together lost 118 stone, saw improved sleep and energy, had better focus and concentration and an increased understanding of nutrition.

Our aim for 2019 is to support our people to build resilience and capacity so they can manage the mental and physical demands of their work environment.

Our strategy has always been based on prevention and intervention. The most significant challenge we have had to address is the diversity of employees, who now range from 16 to 60+ years old and who require varied tools for communication.

Apps and online engagement

At the start of our campaign, we realised not everyone wanted to engage in the channels we offered. We needed to ask “What can we provide that our workforce actually wants?” and this has led to a multi-channel approach.

The younger generation don’t want to pick up a phone or meet face to face, so alongside the traditional channels we have set up apps and online engagement tools; since implementation we have seen engagement increase by 15%.

While our support services offer professional assistance, we also have 127 mental health “champions” across the business. As well as benefiting the recipients, our champions have felt a boost to their own confidence and increased value in the work they do. This engagement is helping build a community across our workforce, and bringing the topic of mental health into the open and tackling the stigma around it.

Training in how to spot problems

Creating an environment where people can talk openly is a significant step forward for us. Results from our Mind survey in 2017 showed that the way line managers react to mental health issues can be a barrier. In response, we have developed line manager training in how to spot problems and manage them effectively.

Since we introduced this in 2017, we have trained 400 managers in how to spot signs and symptoms and support their people through mental health issues.

Laing O’Rourke’s ambition is to change our internal culture and also be regarded as a leader in the industry in tackling mental health issues. We pride ourselves on our support services which include mental health literacy, the provision of mindfulness and resilience training.

We are also looking to change our physical environment by transforming what is quite a traditional workplace into something that stimulates creativity and innovation.

Three years ago, we had a 3% usage of our confidential counselling line. In 18 months, this rose to 12%. This summer, in our employee engagement survey, 81% of our employees agreed their line manager would take action to support their wellbeing. Our goal is to create an environment that allows everyone to bring the best version of themselves to work.

Silvana Martin is health and wellbeing leader at Laing O’Rourke


I have suffered and still suffering from serious mental ill health. In my opinion, the initial or accelerating factors that contributed to the decline of mental health wellbeing of our professionals is that we have been harassed and bullied for a long time. Many will disagree with me but it is what it is. Construction companies always show or hide under a 'beautified' facade or 'diplomatic' about it. To me, being diplomatic by them is to lie, lie and lie again.
Good for you, Laing O'Rourke is doing good for its employees. Good for Chartered Institute of Building, our professional body addressed the issue on Modern Slavery. Keep it up

Kaw Lam Chong CIOB, 8 February 2019

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