Making mental health manageable

By Trent Cummings, LAK Group

The construction industry is renowned for its resilience in the face of tough challenges, yet historically, it often has overlooked the well-being of its most vital asset: its workers. A bitter truth – If you’re rolling your eyes on the topic, you might be part of why only 17% of industry workers would openly discuss their mental health issues with a supervisor. 

Amidst the hustle and bustle of construction sites, where long hours and physically demanding tasks are the norm, the mental health of workers can often be neglected. While physical signs of distress are readily apparent, mental health struggles may lurk beneath the surface, masked by a prevailing culture that values toughness and stoicism. However, addressing mental health in the construction sector is a matter of consistent effort to foster a safe, collaborative, and productive workforce.

Trent Cummings photo.
Trent Cummings

Addressing mental health in the construction industry goes beyond providing access to resources; it requires a fundamental shift in organizational culture.

One of the key advantages of promoting mental well-being is its positive impact on employee morale and engagement. When employees feel supported and valued by their employers, they are more likely to be motivated and enthusiastic about their work. On the other side, a lack of attention to mental health can lead to disengagement, absenteeism, and high turnover rates, all of which can undermine organizational success.

A recent National Alliance on Mental Illness/Ipsos poll in January 2024 shed light on the mental health landscape within the construction industry. Shockingly, 15% of employees aged 18 to 29 rated their mental health as “somewhat poor,” while only 35% of entry-level employees reported their mental health as “very good.” These statistics underscore the urgent need for employers to prioritize mental health initiatives to support their workers effectively.

One of the primary challenges in addressing mental health in the construction industry is the stigma surrounding seeking help. Construction workers, predominantly male (Bureau of Labor Statistics), often grapple with cultural taboos that discourage open discussions about mental health. Consequently, many workers may suffer in silence, hesitant to reach out for support for fear of being perceived as weak or vulnerable. This pervasive stigma impairs mental health issues and hinders efforts to create a supportive environment within construction companies.

To confront these challenges head-on, employers should consider implementing a comprehensive mental health strategy that includes education, training, and support services. Providing employees with access to mental health resources, such as counseling services, peer support groups, and wellness programs, can help reduce stigma and encourage help-seeking behavior. Additionally, offering flexible work arrangements and promoting work-life balance can help alleviate stress and improve overall well-being. Collaborating with benefits providers, coaches, or even self-service applications is a crucial first step. The language & approach you choose is vital. Employers must communicate this in a way of “these are resources for you” and not “we’re doing this to you.” By providing these services, employers can ensure their workers have a safe spot to communicate and readily available resources to address their stress & mental health needs.

Moreover, promoting these resources through various channels such as signage, employee handbooks, and supervisor training can help destigmatize seeking help for mental health issues. If leaders in the organization are openly participating, others are more likely to follow and buy-in. By fostering a culture that values and prioritizes mental health, employers can encourage open dialogue and create a supportive atmosphere where workers feel comfortable seeking assistance when needed.

However, addressing mental health in the construction industry goes beyond providing access to resources; it requires a fundamental shift in organizational culture. Leaders play a pivotal role in setting the tone for workplace culture and must lead by example by prioritizing mental health and well-being. This involves not only advocating for mental health support but also actively demonstrating empathy and understanding towards employees’ struggles.

Positive strides have been made in recent years, with increased investment in education and training programs, to equip workers with the skills to recognize and address mental health issues. A Center for Workplace Mental Health survey showed that 77% of Presidents, CEOs, and Owners recognized as a priority addressing mental health at work by promoting awareness, helping to reduce stigma, and encouraging people to get help when needed. Additionally, structured peer support networks have emerged, providing workers with opportunities to connect, share experiences, and offer mutual assistance.

Despite the progress, significant barriers to addressing mental health persist within the industry. Leadership biases, misconceptions about the cost and time involved in implementing mental health initiatives, and fear of repercussions continue to hinder progress. However, there will always be new barriers – just like a workplace culture, mental well-being initiatives are a living, breathing effort that continue to evolve with everyday experiences. Developing awareness, resources, and participation help those experiences become more positive over time.

From purely a business perspective, addressing mental health in the construction industry requires a consistent, multifaceted approach that provides access to resources, destigmatization efforts, and a shift in organizational culture. By prioritizing mental health and well-being, employers can create a supportive environment that fosters resilience, productivity, and overall employee satisfaction. The importance of mental well-being in the workplace cannot be overstated. Beyond the moral imperative of caring for employees’ mental health, there are significant benefits to fostering a supportive and psychologically safe work environment. Research has consistently shown that prioritizing mental health in the workplace leads to higher employee satisfaction, increased retention, and improved overall organizational performance. Other studies have found that for every dollar invested in mental health programs, companies see a return of $1.50 to $4.00 in improved productivity and reduced absenteeism and turnover. By proactively addressing mental health issues, employers can mitigate the financial costs associated with lost productivity and employee turnover, ultimately contributing to their bottom line.

Adding to it, promoting mental well-being fosters a culture of innovation and creativity within organizations. When employees feel psychologically safe to express their thoughts and ideas without fear of judgment or reprisal, they are more likely to contribute innovative solutions and drive organizational growth. By nurturing a work environment that values diverse perspectives and encourages open communication, employers can harness the full potential of their workforce and stay ahead of the competition.

From a community perspective, organizations that demonstrate a commitment to employee well-being enhance their reputation as employers of choice, attracting top talent and strengthening their position in the market. Moreover, by supporting employees’ mental health, employers contribute to the overall health and resilience of society, helping to reduce the burden on healthcare systems and improve social outcomes.

In conclusion, prioritizing mental well-being in the workplace is not only the right thing to do but also makes good business sense. By investing in mental health initiatives, employers can create a supportive work environment that fosters employee retention, productivity, and innovation. By demonstrating a commitment to employee well-being, employers can enhance their reputation, attract top talent, and contribute to the overall health and resilience of society. As the construction industry continues to evolve, investing in mental health will be essential for building a healthier, more sustainable workforce for the future.

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