Mental health: Focus on fibre

The taboos and stigma around mental health are thankfully being broken thanks to initiatives like #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek, where honest and open conversations are welcomed in the workplace.  

Mental health effects every workplace.While there are no specific statistics examining mental health and wellbeing in the fibre sector, what we’ve learned from Pickr’s Fibre Worker Survey 2019 can shine a light on aspects of the industry that have a bearing on the mental health of Britain’s fibre professionals.

Long hours, long distances 

Travelling long distances and spending time away from home are commonplace in the fibre sector. Fibre professionals work an average of 42 hours per week, just over the standard 40 hour full time national average. However, more than a third of workers reported to regularly taking on additional evening and weekend work. The added stress of taking on extra shifts is compounded by more time away from home and the associated travel. Fibre workers are willing to travel 98 miles on average for any one job. 

While offering the opportunity for variety that 19% of workers report to enjoying, long spells on the road or extended time away from home can result in a lack of routine and daily structure. This can have a negative bearing on personal wellbeing. Whether it’s eating convenience junk food on the road, missing family events or sharing digs with someone you don’t like, this can negatively affect physical and mental health long term. 

The parameters of the job mean there’s no quick fix solution to these challenges. Practising self-care can be difficult on the road but a little fore-sight and planning can help limit the negative effects. For example, foregoing a McDonalds for something more nourishing may require some advanced meal prep but you’ll feel the benefit you in the long run.  

Male dominated industry 

Take a look around any site and you’ll see a fairly homogeneous group. There are no official statistics looking into the gender imbalance in the fibre sector but 97% of the users on the Pickr platform are male and we believe this to be representative of the sector.

As we know from recent campaigns, men are particularly vulnerable to mental health problems. A reluctance to seek help or diagnosis for symptom combined with a culture of toxic masculinity and societal stigma sees many men suffer in silence. Suicide is the biggest cause of death for men aged under 35. A sobering statistic that highlights just how important it is to feel heard. 

How our stress and anxieties manifest themselves differs from person to person, but drugs and alcohol are a common crutch. Men are nearly three times more likely than women to become alcohol dependent. Overindulging after work or hanging after a heavy weekend can affect your mood long into the working week. This is something to be aware of in your own behaviour and in your friends and colleagues. If you see someone struggling, reach out and ask if they’re ok. Having that support, no matter how small the gesture, may make a world of difference to that individual. 

Self-employed

There’s no doubt the freedom and flexibility working for yourself can be hugely beneficial but the added financial pressures of being self-employed can have a huge bearing on mental health. Not only is there no sick leave or paid holiday provision enjoyed by employed fibre workers, if you’re an employer there’s also the responsibility of supporting someone else’s livelihood. 

This pressure can be both external i.e. the need to pay the bills, and internal, with fibre pros putting pressure on themselves to achieve their financial and career goals. This will to succeed means many business owners, regardless of their sector, take on excessive workloads and neglect their health. 

Again, there is little that can be done about the root cause of this pressure, especially when you’re the source of it. It’s worth remembering a poor work life balance leads to burnout. Effectively managing your time and integrating healthy habits into your working routines, like ensuring you get enough sleep, can relive some of the negative effects. However, we appreciate this is easier said than done. 

If you work as part of a gang or are leading a team, you have to ensure it’s one you can trust. A good company culture, no matter how small the company, is conducive to a positive working environment which gets better results. A reliable team you can trust is worth their weight in gold. They’ll be there to support you if you do the same for them. 

 

Veterans 

Our surveys found 40% of fibre workers entered the fibre industry from a military background. We explored the whys of this in our ex-services personnel blog which suggested one of the reasons for such a high uptake in telecoms is the existing community in the sector. Understanding and empathy for veterans trying to assimilate back into civilian life is crucial, as many are faced with their own set of mental health challenges.  

In 2018, the Guardian reported PTSD in the UK’s military was on the increase. Just under 10% of military personal that saw combat experienced PTSD, symptoms of which can emerge years after the event. As harrowing as those experiences are, they can be treated. Anyone who thinks they might be suffering from PTSD, whether they’re a veteran or not, should seek help from their doctor. 

The change to civilian life can be a jarring, even for the 90% of service leavers who don’t suffer from PTSD. Having those formal and informal support networks between colleagues can prove to be a huge help for veterans struggling to adjust. Simply having the opportunity to talk about their experience with someone who’s already been through it can ease the anxiety associated with such drastic lifestyle changes. 

 

High levels of job satisfaction 

By and large our surveys highlighted overwhelmingly positive feelings about the respondents future in the fibre sector. A huge 94% of workers said they’d still be in the industry in 2 years’ time. This suggest high levels of job satisfaction, a sentiment that was echoed when we asked what workers hated most about the fibre sector. 29% said they didn’t dislike anything at all. 

Fibre is a growing industry, with the UK’s full fibre roll out offering plenty of opportunities for day to day job satisfaction and long-term career progression. 19% of the workers we asked said they most enjoyed the variety of the role. Working with new technologies, enjoying practical tasks and generally not being tied to a desk were common responses.  

Fibre is also a second career for around half the fibre workforce, 40% entered from the armed forces and around 5% retraining from completely different industries. This suggest that many workers would be actively engaged in their roles, at least initially, having made a conscious and considered decision to enter the sector. 

 

 

Mental health is something that affects us all, with approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK experiencing a mental health problem each year. Anxiety and depression are the most commonly reported problems and can be made more acute by work related stress.  

Fortunately, the stigma around mental health is being diminished, but as we can see from the stats around male metal health in particular, there’s a long way to go. Like physical health, mental health is a state of being. It’s open to external influences and can change and fluctuate. If you’re struggling, speak out and remember to be kind to yourselves and others.