The COVID-19 pandemic focused attention on establishing measures to protect the physical well-being of employees. Unfortunately, nurturing workers’ mental health has not received the same call to action. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the construction industry ranks second highest in suicide rates across major industries. Increasing leadership engagement, raising mental health awareness, building a culture of caring, and enhancing access to services and supports are actions companies can take to help improve employee mental health.
The Center for Workplace Mental Health’s 2021 Pulse Survey: Mental Health and Well-being in the Construction Industry notes multiple factors likely contributing to higher suicide rates and mental health concerns in the construction industry. These include:
- Male dominated industry, with men experiencing the highest suicide rates
- Toughness and strength are valued, mental health conditions, or seeking help, may be seen as personal weakness
- Stigma and fear of consequences associated with mental health issues and help seeking
- Shame and fear of judgment
- Chronic pain
- Seasonal and cyclical work contributing to family and financial strain
- High stress and deadline-driven work
- Limited job control
- Long work hours, including potential for large volume of overtime leading to fatigue
- Separation of family when working away from home
Increase Leadership Engagement
Solutions for countering these factors begin at the top. Leaders must reinforce the importance of workers taking care of their mental health and encourage employees to reach out for help when needed. “Active and continuous leadership engagement is essential in breaking down barriers in addressing mental health and worker well-being,” says the survey.
The Center recommends employers develop a vision and implement practices to communicate that mental health is a “strategic imperative” and that senior leadership is:Visible: is united on the importance of addressing mental health as a sound business practice and as the right thing to do
Vocal: regularly communicates concern for the well-being of employees and families
Vulnerable: shares personal stories and demonstrates that “it is ok to not be ok”
Raise Mental Health Awareness
Employees must understand that your organization values their health – both mental and physical. Integrate resources, information and policies on mental health into human resources (recruitment, hiring, onboarding, training and coaching); employee benefits and wellness (Employee Assistance Program [EAP] promotional campaigns, substance misuse treatment and recovery options); and safety and health (safety orientations, company gatherings, pre-project kick-off meetings and stand-downs).
Also, continually share information with employees via newsletters, emails, posters, crisis hotlines and well-being resources. Be sure to avoid a “one and done” approach by making culturally sensitive and linguistically appropriate mental health resources available throughout the year and via multiple channels.
Consider training managers and first-line supervisors to better understand mental health and substance misuse conditions. The Center, in partnership with the American Psychiatric Association Foundation (APAF), offers manager and supervisor training via the e-learning module: Notice.Talk.Act.® At Work.
Build a Caring Culture
Employees desire a connection with peers, sense of belonging to the organization, and trust and community with coworkers. Leaders must help workers feel valued for their contributions. To assist contractors with building this community in their organizations, the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America and AGC of Washington have developed the Culture of CARE. A key initiative of the program is the 2023 Construction Inclusion Week, October 16-20, 2023. Construction companies should consider sponsoring mental health activities during this week.
The Center for Workplace Mental Health also recommends:
- Show concern for workers and their families; reinforce a respectful workplace culture free from harassment, discrimination, bullying or inappropriate teasing, and harsh judgment of peers
- Convey that workers will not be subject to negative job consequences for seeking help
- Be aware of the risks associated with offering alcohol at company-sponsored events
- Consider creating a mentorship or peer support initiative
- Take the STAND-UP pledge from the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention
Enhance Access to Services and Supports
Assess your company’s EAP by reviewing utilization rate and impact metrics, eligibility and waiting periods, benefits and frequency of services, and when and how you promote the EAP. Actively remove barriers and improve access to mental health care. Some of the practices cited in the survey include:
- Expanded and repeated worker education on employee benefits
- Participation by spouses in benefit open enrollment meetings
- Increased number of EAP counseling sessions
- Initiation of chaplaincy service
- Telehealth options for physical and mental health services
An Industry-Wide Approach
Our industry is making strides by prioritizing mental wellbeing and self-care. At Engineered Rigging, leadership has embraced the topic, and we are appreciative of the Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association's (SC&RA) 2023 Crane & Rigging Workshop's session on Cracking the Code on Mental Health. We invite you to explore the resources below to increase your understanding on the topic.
The following resources provide further information on mental health and suicide prevention in the construction industry:
- Mental Health and Well-being in the Construction Industry, 2021 Pulse Survey, Center for Workplace Mental Health
- Resources for Mental Health, Addiction Recovery and Suicide Prevention, Construction Safety Week
- Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention
- Manager and Supervisor Training, Notice.Talk.Act.® At Work. Creating a Mentally Healthy Workplace e-learning module, APAF and Center for Workplace Mental Health
- Culture of CARE, AGC of America and AGC of Washington