Earthmoving News, Opinion

Supporting mental health in the industry

With a rise in mental health concerns and suicide in the construction industry, what can be done to increase support for workers?

In Australia, construction workers are six times more likely to take their own lives than have an accident at work, with an incredibly alarming rate of one construction worker taking their life every two days – this statistic is haunting and now is the time for change.

So, how do we get there? The rise in mental health concerns across the construction industry is alarming, long working hours, poor work/life balance, high risk environments, bullying and harassment, a culture of silence and the bystander effect are all key factors.

It’s hard to imagine how small changes can create impact, but they can, and here’s where we can all begin.

Speaking up

The bystander effect is a theory where individuals are less likely to step in when others are around. This may be due to how the supporting individual may be perceived for standing up against the perpetrator, which therefore affects their own safety in the situation.

Feeling safe enough to call someone out for their behaviours can feel intimidating, but the power in speaking up for those being affected is far greater. Whether it is small remarks made towards someone’s physical attributes and/or abilities, personal choices, sexuality, and/or gender, lived experiences or anything else, they are being discriminated against.

Speaking up on the spot and calling out the behaviour is an incredible catalyst for change and will show that this behaviour isn’t tolerated. You will soon notice others will follow in standing up against bullying and this is where change begins.

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Supporting positive culture

Having a workplace that actively promotes good mental health practices may feel rare in the industry, but it does exist. Tools include having your business aligned with an employee assistance program (EAP) service for mental health and wellness, having mental health crisis documents or guidelines in easily accessible places for those who aren’t sure where to begin supporting a co-worker or themselves, taking part in awareness days such as R U OK Day and having these resources available and actively promoting a message in your workplace of supporting mental health.

Creating a culture where mental health support is available, championed and promoted is incredibly beneficial to your workplace. Organisations could also start a mental health support committee, where key people are available to support workers who are in need of further guidance.

Starting conversations

Imagine coming to work and feeling safe to speak about your mental health and how you are feeling. This should be the norm, so let’s start advocating for it.

Start actively promoting and engaging in open conversations. Checking in on co-workers and taking the time to have real and authentic conversations can save a life.

If you notice a co-worker is unusually silent, withdrawn or starting to not show up to work or bring the same enthusiasm for life – these are strong indicators that something isn’t right. If you aren’t sure how to start the conversation, just being an active listener is the perfect place to start, and continuing to check in on that person. If you don’t feel you have the capacity to hold space for that person, recommending them support services is also a great way to help.

Checking in with work mates can help build a culture of positivity around discussing mental health at work. Image: SpaceOak/stock.adobe.com

Work/life balance

Promoting and providing flexibility for workers is a key catalyst for the mental health crisis in the construction industry. People are creating a movement for shorter working hours, safer working conditions and more balance in their working lives.

Gone are the days where workers needed to be onsite 10+ hours a day, in extreme conditions and were expected to show up six or seven days a week. Let’s advocate for men picking their kids up from school and participating in social activities in the afternoons, let’s support women in the industry who need to work around school hours and family/carer appointments and activities that relieve their burnout, let’s rally for all workers to not leave work so physically and mentally fatigued that it affects their health to a point of crisis and intervention.

Let’s support and encourage working from home where possible, showing flexibility is achievable from leadership and top levels, and allow this to filter through the workplace.

Productivity and mental health boosts with flexibility and work/life balance, and in our fast paced and busy world, let’s promote and encourage balance and its benefits.

Women’s mental health

At NAWIC we are passionate about advocating for women in the construction industry, and through research, lived experiences and feedback we know that women in construction are suffering.

As published in the NAWIC Journal, Dr Adedeji Afolabi and a group of researchers discovered that the major factors leading to mental health issues among female workers in construction are: sexism, lack of access to flexible and part-time work options, family and carer commitments, long working hours, negative perceptions surrounding their ability to perform similar roles to men, macho culture, male-dominated recruitment processes, low career progress and the inability to balance career and personal goals, plus the gender pay gap and it’s affects.

We need to support our women in the construction industry and the burnout they feel working within it. At NAWIC we provide a safe place for all women, empowering and advocating for their rights in the construction industry.

We support women (and men) through individual and corporate membership, and offer access to events, awards, scholarships, networking, professional development and our EAP program that provides 24/7 free confidential support.

If you, or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, here are free support services that may support you: Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636; Headspace – 1800 650 890; Mates in Construction – 1300 642 111.

NAWIC is a not-for-profit organisation, with a vision to create an equitable construction industry where women fully participate. Its mission is to drive change that will aid in the increased recruitment, retention and further vocational development of women within all facets of the construction industry. You can stay connected with NAWIC through its social media platforms, The Leaky Pipeline Podcast or become a member. You can learn more about the impactful work at www.nawic.com.au.

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