Construction workers are at higher risk of mental health issues than employees in other professions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s why creating a mental health toolbox talk should be prioritized at the same level as wearing personal protective equipment (PPE).
The construction industry is one that has often been described as tough, operating on a foundation of endurance in the midst of long hours, exhaustion and seasonal employment.
However, some construction workers struggle with rotating schedules that have resulted in sleep disruption and extended time away from family and friends. Others experience chronic pain from years of taxing manual labor. Additionally, there’s the looming stigma of mental illness, which often keeps employees from speaking up.
The truth is, there’s no need for crew members to suffer in silence when they experience depression in such a competitive, high-pressure industry. It’s OK to be vulnerable. It’s healthy for crew members to admit when there’s a problem. It’s good to seek help, but many don’t – out of fear they’ll be shamed, humiliated and condemned by their peers.
7 tips to consider when creating a mental health toolbox talk
- Eliminate the stigma by starting the conversation. Encourage open communication so workers know they can share mental health issues at any time without being criticized. Some workers might want to pursue therapy, in which case employers can consider providing flexible scheduling. Employers should also consider offering employee assistance programs (EAP) that provide counselors who can help.
- Recognize warning signs. Workers suffering in the area of mental health might exhibit increased tardiness and absenteeism, decreased productivity and self-confidence, isolation, agitation, substance abuse and near-misses.
- Build awareness through proper education. Research readily available mental health outreach programs, such as the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and share them with your crew members. It’s also important to know your team. What motivates them? What saddens them? Sometimes, all it takes is asking someone how they’re doing. Remember to encourage employees to support one another in times of stress. Additionally, provide management training to supervisors so they can balance emotional support with demanding work pressures.
- Consider creating a health and wellness committee. Such a committee could bring much-needed wellness resources.
- Invite experts to the job site. Occasionally, it’s good to bring mental health experts to the job site to host seminars on mental health.
- Take annual pulse checks. Be sure to review your crew’s satisfaction levels annually and recognize opportunities for improvement.
- Stay positive. Recognize wins and provide credit where it’s due. This can lead to increased mental stability within a crew.
It’s important for the construction industry to fight depression, anxiety and suicide by destigmatizing mental health and creating awareness. Construction companies that adopt a progressive approach to worker mental health are taking the right steps, both from a moral and legal standpoint.