An estimated 1 million workers are absent every day due to work related stress - here construction company Willmott Dixon explains what its done to make the work environment less stressful

bullying stressful workplace

As part of Stress Awareness Month Jennie Hennessey, communications manager at contractor Willmott Dixon, explores why it’s detrimental for businesses to have a stressful work environment and the importance of looking after employees.

In the Midlands we deliver projects with values up to £40m, each with pressures on time, cost and quality – three factors that can make the work environment particularly stressful.

A few years ago, we were seeing the knock-on effect that stress was having on our employees so we decided to make a change and support them in managing stress and leading a more balanced life.

We considered running a well-being week but it became apparent that this would have no lasting effect.

While awareness weeks and months are important, there needs to be a long-term commitment made by a business to these kinds of initiatives in order to make them happier places for work.

We needed to give our people the tools to become more resilient to stress through long-term behavioural changes – a more proactive approach that focused on prevention.

stressful work environment
Jennie Hennesey communications manager at construction company Willmott Dixon


Methods for making the work environment less stressful

We partnered with a local fitness, lifestyle and nutrition coaching business to develop a pilot programme designed around individuals with the goal of building resilience.

The programme provides a holistic approach to well-being, recognising that a healthy body and a healthy mind are intrinsically linked.

We designed the pilot programme to run for six months – for any behavioural change to be effective techniques need to be practiced for at least six months to become new behaviours.

Although it was an overwhelming success, there were some challenges we faced along the way.

The construction industry has a stereotypically macho reputation and, perhaps as a result, wellbeing and mental health has not been something that people have been prepared to discuss openly in the past, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an issue.

We held briefing sessions with each of the pilot groups to explain why we were embarking on this programme and ensure they were invested and on board every step of the way.


How businesses benefit from creating stress-free workplaces

Programmes such as this not only benefit our people, but also the business itself.

As a direct result of the programme we were able to decrease long-term sickness of team members with anxiety or depression related symptoms.

Throughout the pilot, we compared a number of key figures with a previous project that was similar in scope and equally as challenging.

The results were amazing, as during the pilot we experienced no absences, which in turn meant the business did not incur delays or additional costs as part of the project.

Importantly, the pilot also really helped our people, with quantifiable results such as:

  • Stress levels reduced by almost 20% – indicated via both physical measurements and qualitative feedback from employees
  • Employees’ ability to handle stress (resilience) increased by 25%
  • Weight and body fat decreased by 2kg and 2.9% respectively
  • Employees reported that their energy levels were 16% higher


Extending the benefits of reduced stress levels to customers

From a business perspective we wanted to make the well-being programme as accessible as possible for all our people.

Using the data from our pilot we worked to develop our Life Balance Programme – our bespoke health, well-being and performance programme.

It sits alongside our existing initiatives for supporting our employees.

The Life Balance Programme invaluable for our people, it has also created a new way for us to engage with our customers.

On recent projects such as the University of Warwick Sports Hub, we have been able to extend our programme to our customers, providing them with added value beyond bricks and mortar.

Similarly, we are just about to put a number of our supply chain partners through the programme too, demonstrating the importance of well-being in our customers and partners.

We have built on the project and further developed our one-to-ones to include quality conversations around well-being, performance and development.

Similarly, we have embarked on a programme of training Mental Health First Aiders, which helps our employees to have greater awareness of, understand and support their colleagues with mental health and is helping to combat the stigma that surrounds it in the workplace.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to well-being in the workplace, but as conversations surrounding mental health and stress management become more commonplace in society it’s crucial for businesses, regardless of their sector to keep up.