Mental health can be a touchy subject to address with your employees, especially since it’s so often accompanied by a negative stigma. With as many as 1 in 5 people in the United States dealing with some form of mental illness every single day, there’s a good chance that someone on your construction team is dealing or has dealt with a mental health problem at some time in their life.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention report, which was released in July, further emphasized that construction workers need help. The report revealed that construction and extraction workers had the second-highest rate of suicide among industries examined. Rather than shying away from the subject, it is important to sensitively address mental health issues and do everything you can as a supervisor, manager, or boss to help improve the mental health of your crew.
While mental health can be a touchy subject, the best thing you can do to help improve your workers’ mental health is to create a healthy work environment.
With this in mind, here are some ideas, tips, tricks, and techniques you can implement to help improve your employee’s mental health and make your workplace a safe space for talking about and working through mental illness.
The easiest way to begin to address and improve your employee’s mental health is simply to look around and be aware of the signs that there are mental health issues present. Visit your jobsite and talk with crew members to gauge their emotional wellness.
Sometimes it’s obvious — you’ll notice that your foreman is fatigued, complains that they’re not sleeping well, smokes more, or has other marked changes in mood or appearance.
Other times, the signs are more discrete. A crew member who has dealt with a mental illness for a while may become very good at hiding the signs and symptoms that would otherwise indicate their struggle. Many of them have done so due to the negative stigma that surrounds those who deal with mental illness on a daily basis.
A little bit of observation can go a long way toward helping you improve the mental health of your employees.
Do Your Research
Knowing a little bit about the kinds of risk factors that put construction workers at risk for depression or suicide can help you address the issues and help your crew.
Here are some of the most common industry risk factors:
Access to lethal means: Workers have greater access to heavy equipment, heights, and other means which can result in harm.
Capability for fearlessness: Construction typically has a workplace culture of “manliness,” which often results in workers opting for stoicism and bravery instead of talking through issues.
Fragmented community/isolation: Due to seasonal employment and changing work crews, construction workers are less likely to form work friends, resulting in loneliness.
Your best bet at understanding the nature behind mental health, especially in a male-dominated industry such as construction, is to talk to a licensed therapist or psychiatrist. They will be able to provide you with into how to best talk to your crew in a way that will result in responsiveness.
Know Your Rights and Your Employee’s Rights
Mental health is tricky when it comes to employer and employee rights. It’s difficult to tell what falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), because the diagnosis of a mental illness can be so subjective.
During hiring, firing, and any other procedures, it is important to only consider the applicant’s job qualifications and whether or not they are capable of performing all of their required duties on the work site. This may mean you have to spend more time in the hiring process as you vet potential employees and decide who will help you get the most done on a work site.
If you have any concerns about this subject, the best thing to do would be to consult a lawyer who specializes in the ADA. They’ll offer you the best advice on the process of bringing on or letting go someone who may have a mental health issue, and the legal ramifications.
Consider Environmental Factors
Many factors can affect the mental health of a construction crew. The environment that you’re working in can have a dramatic positive or negative effect on the overall mental health of your crew. Consider personality fit of crew members before hiring. Do you want to pair opposite personalities together in a high-stress environment while operating expensive and dangerous equipment?
Shift work often has the most shocking impact on mental health. Working outside the ‘normal’ 9-5 shift can have a variety of negative effects, including depression and other mood disorders. Nighttime construction work can be especially taxing, due to the heavily physical nature of the job. It’s also much harder to create a safe work environment, due to the problems presented by working at night — low light levels, working on open roadways, impaired drivers, etc. — adding to the already high stress level.
One of the best ways to create a healthy working environment, especially if you’re dealing with shift work, is to offer ways to help your employees adapt to the odd shifts they’re working.
Create an Open Door Policy
As mentioned previously, as a supervisor or manager on a construction site, one of the most important parts of your job is being an ear for your employees, whether their problems are work related or not. While we know that we’re supposed to leave our problems at the door, life doesn’t always work that way. Fostering an open door policy is a great way to help your crew members improve their mental health.
Be there for your employees. Lend them an ear and allow them to speak openly with you. Help them if you can, and if you can’t , then point them in the right direction to get the proper help. Having a boss they can talk to, whether it’s about their job, lunch, latest sports scores, or mental health, is a valuable and irreplaceable thing.
While mental health can be a touchy subject, the best thing you can do to help improve your workers’ mental health is to create a healthy work environment, adjust for environmental factors like office size or shift hours, and simply be there for them. You can be a boss and a friend when they need it the most.
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