“We are our own worst enemy”: A qualitative exploration of work-related stress in the construction industry

Richard M Martin, Frank de Vocht , R M Langford, Paige M Hulls*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
95 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose: Around 400,000 working days per year are lost in the construction industry due to stress, depression or anxiety, but a large proportion of the industry – those primarily not based “on site” - are not included in these statistics. Little research has been conducted in this group about their
experiences of occupational stress. We explored how stress was experienced and managed by construction professionals and its perceived impact on health.

Methodology: We interviewed 32 construction professionals in a British construction company, with varying levels of seniority and years in the industry. Interviews were transcribed, coded and analysed thematically.

Findings: Stress was viewed an inevitable and increasing part of the construction industry, exacerbated by recent economic challenges. Participants talked about a culture of stress and overwork but often felt unable to challenge it due to job insecurity. Senior management acknowledged stress was a problem within the industry and something that potentially threatened company productivity. Company-wide initiatives had been implemented to address stress levels
(e.g., Mental Health First Aiders), but were criticised for ignoring underlying issues. Informal means of managing stress were identified, such as careful consideration of team dynamics which allowed employees to form close bonds and using ‘banter’ and comradery to relieve stress. However, the persistence of a macho male image meant some participants were reluctant to talk about their
feelings at work. Participants described individual coping strategies, such as exercise, but these were hard to prioritise in challenging times.

Originality: There is growing recognition that health and wellbeing must be given greater priority in the construction industry. Industry pressures and competitive practices undermine efforts to 3 improve staff wellbeing. Action must be taken at senior levels to address this conflict, while building on existing informal mechanisms of support and stress relief.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)609-622
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Workplace Health Management
Issue number5
Early online date6 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 9 Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: This research was funded in whole, or in part, by the Wellcome Trust [108902/Z/15/Z]. For the purpose of Open Access, the author has applied a CC BY public copyright licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising from this submission.

Funding Information:
FdV is partly funded by National Institute for Health Research Applied Research Collaboration West (NIHR ARC West) at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust.

Funding Information:
RMM is a member part of the MRC Medical Research Council Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol supported by the Medical Research Council (MC_UU_00011/1 and MC_UU_00011/5). The work was also supported by Cancer Research UK (C18281/A19169) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) (ES/N000498/1). RMM is supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Bristol Biomedical Research Centre which is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and is a partnership between University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Bristol. Department of Health and Social Care disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, Paige M. Hulls, Frank de Vocht, Richard M. Martin and Rebecca M. Langford.


  • construction
  • occupational stress
  • health and wellbeing
  • workplace


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