The pandemic has undeniably had an effect on our collective mental health, but to different degrees. This shows itself to be true when you look at the impact it’s had across occupations –– especially those where large numbers of workers were experiencing mental health issues even before the pandemic. In 2020, the CDC reported that construction workers had one of the highest suicide rates across industries — four times higher than the general population. More than 83% of construction workers reported experiencing a mental health issue in general. This is partially attributed to the various work-related hazards and stressors workers in this industry often face. The particularly concerning part however is that rates these high were last seen during the 2008 financial crisis, suggesting that a major event –– in this case the pandemic –– is behind this spike. Fortunately, there are things that supervisors can do to remedy the situation. Below are a few ways you can tackle the mental health crisis the construction industry is currently facing.
Issues like delayed material delivery and bad weather can cramp timelines, placing the brunt of the stress on workers. When setting the deadline for a project, factor these delays into your decision. Consider consulting experienced workers to determine other potential problems that may arise. This way, you can formulate solutions early and avoid unnecessary delays. Finally, communicate with workers frequently about the status of the project, and delegate tasks as needed. We’ve previously noted that you can use the SkillSignal mobile apps for real-time communications. This prevents role ambiguity, role conflicts, and role overload scenarios, taking away some of the stress workers otherwise feel.
Another consequence of unrealistic project deadlines is overtime. This causes workers to spend less time at home and in some cases develop sleep deprivation, which in turn decreases productivity and increases the risk of workplace errors and injuries. To avoid these issues, consider making time for consistent breaks throughout the day, such as regular 5- to 10-minute rest periods in addition to a lunch hour. You can also ensure workers don’t go beyond a set number of hours each day. Including this information in onboarding sessions will encourage your workers to take these breaks, as will providing a dedicated place to grab a snack or a drink. All of this can help to restore energy levels, decrease the likelihood of injuries like muscle strain, prevent fatigue-related incidents, and ultimately reduce stress.
Fewer than 1 out of 5 construction workers are comfortable discussing mental health issues due to stigma and lack of information. Providing the relevant resources yourself can help. One trend that’s changing the future of psychiatry with regard to mental health treatment is the use of new technologies. Simply informing workers about virtual therapy websites can lead to them getting in touch with experienced psychiatrists –– without them fearing being seen at a therapist’s office. You can complement this with mental health seminars, educational articles and videos, and even simple links that lead to local and national mental health resources. This can foster a culture of support in the workplace and help workers get comfortable with open mental health discussions.
Supervisors generally set the tone that workers follow. It’s therefore important to train construction leadership to model self-care when it comes to mental health. As a supervisor, you can show workers the importance of breaks by taking them yourself, for example. However, such efforts won’t be effective unless construction workers have confidence and trust in their supervisors. Find more opportunities to treat them as equals, or at least create an environment that fosters more collaboration between workers and supervisors. This will not only help you build rapport with your workers, but also help to build a supportive and mental-health-friendly workplace that will convince existing workers to stay and new workers to come in. Though the prevalence of mental health concerns among construction workers has reached a concerning level, it’s not a problem that’s impossible to resolve. Hopefully, this guide gives you some ideas as to how you can enact changes in your own workplace.
Written exclusively for SkillSignal.
by Amanda Cohen
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