As the UK supports Mental Health Awareness Week (9th May – 15th May), a North East based development and regeneration specialist continues to promote innovative working practices that are supporting its employees’ mental health and wellbeing.
Sadly, suicide is the biggest killer of people under the age of 35 in the UK* and figures from the Office of National Statistics showed an increase in suicide amongst unskilled construction workers in 2020 – a ten year high.
Through its support of suicide prevention charity Papyrus, Vistry Group and Vistry Partnerships North East have already raised over £28,000 so far this year – on the way to a target of £172,500 by the end of 2022 – whilst also creating a culture and strategy to promote mindfulness and openness around mental health.
Initiatives include regular ‘Time to talk’ sessions, covering a wide range of Mental Health topics, presented by people across the business. These sessions are run to give people information, to promote discussion and to allow employees to speak up – confidentially – about how they are feeling, with specially trained colleagues. There are six trained mental health first aiders in the North East office, and over 120 in the Vistry business nationally.
Vistry offers all employees access to a 24/7 Employee Assistance Programme to offer free, confidential support for a wide range of issues. These include but are not limited to; bereavement and grief, loneliness, addiction, living with illness, domestic abuse, relationship and family breakdown, menopause support, occupational health, mental health and financial and legal issues. Vistry also works with ConstructionLine and the Lighthouse Foundation who offer support for anyone working in construction.
A variety of networks have been set up to support and promote inclusivity across the business. Current focus groups include the Womens’ Network, and other groups to increase awareness of race, religion, accessibility and LGBTQ+ issues. In addition, a ‘Benefits Toolbox’ offers free access to pension, life and medical insurance advice, reduced gym membership and access to a cycle to work scheme – for those looking to take control of their finances or physical wellbeing.
Regular meetings of the business’ Mental Health Committee looks at ways to reach out to people who may need help; the key focus this year being to raise awareness of the support available to those working on site. Posters, staff meetings and internal email communications are all used to remind people that help is always available should they need it.
The developer also offers an agile working policy, allowing opportunities to promote a good work/life balance and there is also the option for employees to buy additional holiday should they need it. Finally, in a bid to alleviate the worries people may have due to the current cost of living crisis, Vistry recently implemented an unprompted salary increase, based on a sliding scale, to help especially those on lower incomes, with the hikes in energy and household bills.
Since implementing all of these initiatives, Vistry has seen sickness and absence levels decrease, and a recent staff satisfaction survey delivered a score of 9.1 out of 10 for wellbeing and employee job satisfaction.
Sales Director at Vistry Partnerships North East, Christine Curran, is one of the six mental health first aiders in the region and the business unit’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Champion. She said: “The wellbeing of all of our staff is paramount, and even more so now post pandemic, which has affected so many people in a personal and professional capacity.
“It is important that all staff feel valued, supported and listened to. In doing so, the impact for the individual, wider team and the business are evident. A workforce in which everyone feels accepted and heard, creates an inclusive culture and a positive working environment, where individuals and the company can thrive.
“As these issues are in the spotlight during Mental Health Awareness Week, it is important to broadcast the message that it is ok to talk and to continue the discussion around what a responsible employer should do to support those who are struggling. This week, in addition to the services and support we already offer, we will be holding a wide range of sessions focussing on the increased benefits of positive mental health and wellbeing, with information on different coping methods and techniques available from mindfulness to diet to exercise.”
As well as the fundraising undertaken for Papyrus, Vistry donated over £215,000 to the mental health charity Mind in 2020/21.
Vistry Partnerships North East is currently active on 10 projects across the region, with more sites due to start throughout 2022. With a gross development value of almost £400 million, it will deliver approximately 500 homes this year to customers and clients across a number of tenures. Major ongoing projects include a 350 home development at Bracken Grange, in Middlesbrough and a 375 home scheme at Kirkleatham Green, in Redcar.
*Picture caption: Vistry Partnerships North East Sales Director, Christine Curran, is the business unit’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Champion.