Mental Health and Well-Being in the Construction Industry

Mental health and well-being are high priorities for organizations across industries. This was true before COVID-19, however, is even more so now.

Growing mental health concerns exist in the construction industry because it ranks second highest in suicide rates among major industries.

Research shows that up to 90% of people who die by suicide have a mental health condition.2 Depression is the most common, however other conditions may impact suicide rates including substance use disorders — most commonly alcohol misuse, anxiety, and trauma.

Multiple factors likely contribute to higher suicide rates and mental health concerns in the construction industry, including the following:

  • 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

When it comes to mental health conditions, the best outcomes occur when people seek and connect with care early.

Employee Assistance Programs (EPA)

Also, when it comes to EAPs, 63% of respondents offer an EAP, yet only 48% identified an EAP as a helpful resource for employees. Of the CEO, President, and Owner respondents, only 39% say that an EAP is helpful to share with workers. A similar difference in responses exists for HR and Benefits Professionals with 79% reporting they make an EAP available, yet only 52% saying it is helpful to share with employees.

Creating a Mentally Healthy Organizational Culture

The need to create a caring organizational culture has become a business imperative for all industries. The pandemic has elevated the importance with higher rates of people experiencing excessive stress, anxiety, depression, and projected increased rates of suicide and overdose deaths. Many people have had time to reflect on their values and the type of environment they want to work in during the pandemic.

What are elements of a caring culture? For starters, it’s people feeling a sense of connection with peers and belonging within the organization. Most people value feeling a sense of trust and community with those they work alongside. Organizational culture starts at the top, making it essential that leaders recognize their role in helping workers feel valued and appreciated for their contributions as key members of the work community.

A caring culture is also one in which leaders reinforce the importance of workers taking care of their mental health and well-being and reaching out for help when it’s needed. This includes leaders modeling and communicating that “it’s ok to not be ok” and reminding people to get help when it’s needed as you would for physical health conditions.

Less than half of people who experience mental health conditions receive care. Organizations increasingly recognize the role they can play in normalizing these conditions and breaking down barriers to people accessing care.

With caring organizational cultures, mental health is visible, not with a “one-and-done” approach, but with a sustained commitment of engaging workers by distributing resources, tools, and programs through multiple channels. This increases the likelihood that workers will feel psychologically safe to seek help when it’s needed and discuss mental health issues that may be impacting work performance, productivity, and peer interactions with supervisors or co-workers.

Many survey respondents say they do not believe that construction workers feel comfortable openly discussing mental health with supervisors (37%), while others were either undecided (31%) or did not know (15%). Only 17% thought workers would discuss mental health issues with their supervisor.

Similarly, when asked if employees feel comfortable openly discussing mental health with co-workers, only 18% agreed, with 31% undecided, 31% disagreeing, and 20% saying they did not know.

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