A stressed out construction worker on a jobsite, AI generated image

Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) has evolved from being concerned only about physical safety to include psychological safety. The focus is on prevention, hazard and risk management, working conditions, and safety behavior, and its benefits include greater productivity, fewer grievances and conflicts, and higher rates of meaningful communication and discretionary effort. In this blog article, we will discuss the key drivers for this shift and actionable tips for both employers and employees to create a work environment that supports good mental health.

Key Drivers for the Shift

15% of working adults suffer from a mental health issue, and poor mental health is the biggest risk factor in the construction industry, which has one of the highest suicide rates. Employers can benefit directly from greater productivity, fewer grievances and conflicts, and higher rates of meaningful communication and discretionary effort from both individuals and teams.

Actionable Tips for Employers

  1. Invest in your managers’ and supervisors’ growth and personal development. Provide counseling, education, and other resources. In creating a healthy work environment, it is essential that these persons lead by example and they cannot be examples unless they possess the required skills and motivation.

  2. De-stigmatize mental health and addiction issues. A healthy workplace relies on open, frank communication, “and right now we’re not having these conversations,” says MacDonald. She also points out that “no one calls in sick for a mental health day, but they should recognize the need to do so and have the means of securing the time.”

  3. Establish the framework for cooperative engagement. Management and employees should co-create opportunities for discussions about company beliefs and values and for the synchronous development of emotional literacy.

Actionable Tips for Employees

  1. Identify an accountability partner, someone with whom it is expected to have regular conversations about mental health topics. Guard against the tendency for these to turn into gripe sessions. Identify the problem then work together on healthy responses.

  2. Tie these conversations to an existing habit. If you always see your accountability partner at lunch or frequently park near each other, link your discussion times to those existing habits.

  3. Eventually, these discussions will become a habit. And forget that “21 days to form a habit” cliché. Habit formation takes anywhere from 18 days to a year, and the average time it takes is 66 days.

Actionable Tips for Both Employers and Employees

  1. Slow down. There is time. This seems contrary to the production mindset of construction, but it’s an investment in future improvements in production. Take a look at not just the symptoms of mental health issues but also the underlying causes. “Once you see them, you can’t un-see them.” Having identified the issues, don’t stop there. “There’s already plenty of data about workplace stress,” says MacDonald. “You don’t need more information. You need more action. And remember that every organization has context, and the steps taken must be tailored to your company.”

  2. First, recognize that there is a problem, even if no one has been willing to admit it or talk about it. Then believe that you can implement meaningful changes that still fit within the production mentality.

  3. Accept the foregoing. You do have the time to make improvements. There is an issue, whether or not it has yet been clearly defined. You can make a difference. “The result of this process is the ability to see differently and develop mental health fluency,” says MacDonald.

Managing the fundamentals of reduced stress is fairly easy. Repetitive tasks are not good, and we need variety. Accommodating one person’s emergent needs by altering the schedule may reduce that person’s stress but increases stress for others who must pick up their slack or work extra hours to fill that position. Simply posting schedules on a reliable basis helps reduce stress.