The pandemic continues to present endless challenges for the construction industry.
Many of the same employees who helped keep companies afloat, or found themselves unemployed over the past year and a half are now feeling depleted or overwhelmed. Physically demanding jobs coupled with unpredictable work schedules often take a hefty toll on mental health, and while suicide affects many different people, you may be shocked to learn that the construction industry represents one of five major sectors with the highest suicide rates in America, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). While this disturbing truth is unsettling to confront, consider using this May Mental Health Awareness Month as an opportunity to shed light on challenging issues and actually save lives.
Mental Health Awareness Month coincides with updated CDC guidelines for construction companies to consider.
The CDC is asking contractors to prioritize the well-being of their workers, with a new checklist that encourages employers to start conversations about how the pandemic is affecting work; communicate clear expectations; anticipate behavior changes, (such as irritation, anger, increased sadness, or trouble concentrating) and ensure that there is a system in place to identify and provide mental health services to those in need. So, why is this troubling issue plaguing this industry, and what can you do to better support your team, increase morale and productivity, and ultimately prevent a tragedy? Read on for expert advice you can weave into your company culture starting today.
According to the U.S Labor of Bureau Statistics, 97% of the construction workforce is male and 59% of those workers are white, which is also the leading demographic with the highest rates of suicide.
Additionally, many U.S. Veterans choose construction career paths, and statistically, vets are at an increased risk of suicide. Typically, employees are expected to work long, inconsistent hours and push through the pain they may experience. A recent study exploring the link between bodily pain and mental health in construction workers found that participants who experienced pain from work-related tasks had significantly higher levels of anxiety and depression. Social stigmas perpetuating the notion that these workers are supposed to be tough, strong, and not show emotion or discuss feelings paired with the factors mentioned above creates a perfect storm for workers to fall victim to this silent epidemic. Dangerous stereotypes can leave construction workers pulling from an empty toolbox of resources, ill-equipped to seek help before it’s too late.
A common aspirational safety culture goal is “Zero Incidents,” but ironically, few have paused to consider mental wellness.
Often, our reluctance to discuss mental health issues stems from fear. Providing accessible educational opportunities can help employees reduce fear and replace it with a sense of community and hope. Consider the following approaches to pave the way for healthier work environments:
Oversee focus groups of 10-15 people who represent critical groups within the company and perform in-depth interviews with key influencers like business leaders, HR directors, safety directors, and others.
Teach coping skills for life’s challenges from new employee onboarding, to supervisor training, to executive coaching, to ongoing wellness workshops – these skills help employees at all levels integrate mental health into their lives and break down stigmas about seeking help. In-person or digital workshop completion can be incentivized as part of a wellness contest among teams or to meet health insurance engagement goals.
Develop a “buddy check program” that encompasses more than just physical safety. A formal peer support program is one of the best ways to promote a caring culture. In fact, many military and first responder communities have discovered this type of program is the key to building a link in the chain of survival, especially among stoic, “tough guy” cultures where men are particularly reluctant to seek professional mental health services.
Successful companies take the time to listen to employees. One of the most important initiatives a company can apply today is simply reaching out to employees on a human level. Start conversations and open up in team meetings to help employees feel supported, and comfortable sharing personal challenges. Distributing resources like the Suicide Prevention Lifeline and this list of resources from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration can be a step in the right direction for employers. Another suggestion? Make team members aware of Mental Health First-Aid training courses covering issues surrounding mental health and substance abuse, and openly encourage participation. Many organizations like The Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention (CIASP) are committed to raising suicide awareness within the industry and providing prevention tools to create a zero-suicide industry. At RBT, we pride ourselves on assisting construction professionals in building the most sustainable businesses possible with our comprehensive services. But most importantly, we aim to pass along useful, relevant information to help our communities succeed, grow and prosper. As we continue to dedicate time and resources to helping our construction clients achieve success, we look forward to connecting with you and your team.