Talking About Mental Health in Construction

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In an industry were individuals have the “tough guy” or “tough gal” mentality, mental health is not often a topic that is addressed by employees, first line leaders, and companies in the broader construction industry. However, since the early 2000’s, mental health and awareness have become topics that has been widely and openly discussed and addressed throughout the business world. Working to meet deadlines, meeting production needs, and dealing with workplace shortages put workers at risk more now than ever before. The challenges faced since 2020 have only added to the stress that employees face.

Talking about mental health and having training sessions where open discussions occur are an important element to add to your company’s annual training. The term mental health refers to a person’s psychological and emotional state. Understanding and discussing this issue openly can help your employees handle their stress in a positive manner. Some of these stresses may include:

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  • A person’s chemical makeup and genes
  • Past experiences that may have caused post traumatic stress disorder (commonly referred to as PTSD)
  • Alcohol or drug addictions or dependencies
  • Stresses at home with family obligations and work/ life balances
  • Stresses from their career field, such as staffing shortages, material shortage, mandatory overtime, and pressures to meet deadlines.

Good leadership should strive to recognize when an employee may be experiencing difficulties or troubles. This includes ALL employees within a company. As many of you certainly know, the more responsibility you have, the more stress you have. Encouraging employees to have open discussions can foster a good working relationship with your coworkers and will help you to recognize some the following danger signs in your people:

  • Sleep issues – either sleeping too much or not enough
  • Disengaging from fellow coworkers or becoming more solitary
  • Behaving as though they have little to no energy and a generally “malingering” attitude
  • Unusual statements like “nothing matters” or “what’s the purpose anymore”
  • Unusual or excessive use of sick time or calling out more often
  • Having the general feeling of hopelessness
  • Offering to give away their possessions
  • Excessive use of alcohol or drugs
  • Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
  • Expressing thoughts of self-harm, even in a joking manner

The question is, how can you help? A person’s place of employment is a good place to start talking about and offering training on awareness and how mental health wellbeing plays a role in life – both professionally and personally.

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Many of us spend most of our days in the workplace. What happens at work usually makes its way home into our personal lives. With technology at our fingertips and many of our work tools readily available 24 hours a day, do we ever really disengage from our jobs? If this ring true to you, it likely does the same for your people.

When putting together a company training program on mental health here are some things to consider:

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  • Having open communication is the first step. Talk about mental health and provide information on both mental health and the above danger signs to look for
  • Create an open-door policy where employees can come to you and talk. Also have resources in place where an employee can talk to someone anonymously
  • Send leaders and human resources professionals to mental health training, so that they can effectively speak to the topics of mental health and effectively coach individuals who may be having a difficult time.
  • Host training sessions where employees can openly discuss the stress of their jobs and how if effects their mental health

These extra steps you can take, will go a long way. Ensure employees have tools they can utilize to help themselves individually. Foster an open environment where your employees can talk about their experiences and feelings with other colleagues. Offer peer support. Encourage in danger individuals to seek help when appropriate.

Additionally, having a company fitness program and encouraging healthy eating, exercise can drastically improve your people’s outlook on life. Offering incentives to meet fitness goals is another good way to get employees involved. Finally, making sure employees can take time off and use vacation or PTO days can be extremely helpful to their overall mental health and your company’s productivity.

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Everything discussed in this article can help improve your company’s moral and build value in the minds of your people. Raising awareness, encouraging involvement, having available resources, and an anonymous reporting system are all important steps in a company’s mental health training. And remember, mental health is a safety issue.

Mike Flowers is Director of Safety, Training and Education for National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA).

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