In the construction industry, mental health is referred to as “the silent epidemic.” According to EHS Today, an occupational safety and health magazine, more construction workers die by suicide each year than every other workplace-related fatality combined. Further, while 1 in 5 U.S. adults experiences mental illness annually, less than half receive treatment, according to a recent study by Deloitte.
Given its prevalence, you can expect that workers at your organization are experiencing mental health challenges or mental illness. That’s why it’s so important to foster a supportive work environment where employees feel comfortable speaking up and asking for help. Here are four ways you can make positive change and benefit your workers’ mental health and wellbeing.
1. Promote Mental Health Awareness at Work
The first step to create a workplace supportive of employees’ mental health is promoting awareness and destigmatizing mental challenges or illness. A study conducted by Westfield Health showed that nearly 60% of construction workers reported struggling with mental health, but only a third said they would communicate this to their employers. Employers need to educate employees about mental health and mental illness and communicate how they can confidentially get help. When you openly talk about mental health, employees are more likely to feel comfortable with the conversation.
You can also establish a workplace environment that is supportive of mental health by:
- Encouraging social support among employees, such as an organized support group that meets regularly.
- Setting up a confidential portal through which employees can reach out to let HR or managers know they're struggling and need help.
- Providing training on problem solving, effective communication and conflict resolution.
2. Address Workplace Stress
Nearly 80% of Americans consider their jobs stressful, but workers in the construction industry are more vulnerable to burnout than in any other field. Chronic workplace stress can contribute to increased employee fatigue, irritability and health problems. Additionally, workplace stress costs U.S. employers approximately $300 billion in lost productivity annually.
While it may not be possible to eliminate job stress altogether, you can help employees learn how to manage it effectively. Common job stressors for construction workers include a heavy workload, long and irregular hours, and job insecurity.
You can implement various activities to help reduce employee stress, which can improve health and morale, including:
- Make sure that workloads are appropriate.
- Facilitate open communication and provide a space for constructive feedback.
- Address negative and illegal actions in the workplace immediately; do not tolerate bullying, discrimination or any similar behaviors.
- Recognize and celebrate employees’ successes. This contributes to morale and decreases stress levels.
3. Evaluate Your Benefits Offerings
Review the benefits you offer to ensure that they support mental wellbeing. Do they cover mental health services? Are there voluntary benefits you could add? Consider offering simple perks like financial planning assistance (as financial stress often contributes to poor mental health), employee discount programs (gym memberships, for example) and Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).
4. Provide Mental Health Training for Managers
One of the most significant problems hindering mental health support is the stigma that surrounds it. Despite recent moves in society toward destigmatizing mental health, issues still persist, particularly in the male-dominated construction industry. Mental health discussions for this demographic are far and few between, which is largely due to fear of embarrassment or the negative impact that speaking up could have on their career.
In conclusion, it’s necessary to consider, support and promote the mental health of your workforce, and make changes if your employees are struggling. Physical safety is often top of mind in the construction industry, but the mental wellbeing of your workers can affect their ability to succeed on the job and in general. The time to support your workers’ mental health is now.