For the Road Review section this month, we asked the industry decision-makers, ‘How can the industry better support workers mentally?’
Rates of depression, anxiety and stress within our sector exceed population norms by 40 per cent for depression, 38 per cent for anxiety and 37 per cent for stress. Physical complaints were observed to be 50 per cent higher than the normal population; and 75 per cent of respondents were suffering moderate to high levels of stress. Infrastructure Australia’s Delivering Outcomes identified the need to review the way the industry approaches People, [with a] focus on expanding ‘health and safety’ to a broader consideration of ‘health and wellbeing’. This can include reviewing and optimising work patterns to support the health, safety and wellbeing outcomes and tracking hours worked by employees to implement measures to mitigate potential to overwork.
All good business practices emanate from the top and measure of an organisation’s mental health score is no exception. Healthy leaders are more likely to incite healthy workforces. With today’s commercial and civil construction climate setting unprecedented challenges, it is no wonder that mental health has become a focus. Unfair and fixed price contracts, subcontractors wearing disproportionate risk, non-payment, unrealistic deadlines, … the list goes on. Mental health challenges must be tackled head on, from the top down, and inclusive of those at the top. Organisations like Mates in Construction provide valuable services. But importantly, every one of us has a role to play in fair play and treating one another with respect, which will have a positive impact on all of our mental health.
A lot has changed since the pandemic, including recognition that employees require flexible, sustainable, and resilient workplaces that acknowledge and respond to mental health priorities. For an industry involved in traditionally blue-collar work this often requires a change in work practices and organisational culture. The start is to ensure organisations treat mental health as a corporate priority with executive and management accountability not just relegated to Human Resources – and this we have seen across our industry. This helps create a mental health friendly environment and reduces the stigma of reaching out for help. This isn’t a challenge, however, for industry alone; it requires collaboration and support from government to ensure resources, capacity and expertise are across the workforce and that mental health is built into every business.
Supporting good mental health and good leadership go hand-in-hand. Time spent on mental health benefits everyone – improving workplace productivity, employee engagement and absenteeism which in turn helps the business bottom line. It is important organisations actively play their part with positive initiatives like wellbeing programs, acknowledging difficult situations and encouraging connections between employees, training and education, flexible work arrangements, addressing poor behaviour and conducting regular employee surveys as accountability mechanisms, in addition to the traditional support via employee assistance programs. Helping leaders and employees to build resilience and create a supportive organisational culture amid the many pressures of modern life is more than just a nice to have now or a way to mitigate claims and issues; it is a key priority to contribute to organisational performance. Productive workplaces are where both performance and empathy comfortably co-exist.
In Australia, about 3000 people commit suicide a year. That’s about eight per day. There is no way to look at these statistics without a sense of alarm. Sadly, tradies, particularly those working in the construction industry, have one of the highest suicide rates in Australia. At Blackwoods we want to make a difference and add positive value where possible. That is why we partner with brands that contribute and assist with positive change in the mental health space with campaigns providing practical tips and information on how to spark a conversation with someone on your worksite or crew who might be doing it tough. Brands such as Workhorse supporting the Beyond Blue Foundation and Trademutt with their “This is a Conversation Starter” shirts are some examples.
This column initially appeared in the May edition of Roads & Infrastructure magazine. Read the magazine here.
If you or someone at your organisation is an industry leader and would like to be a part of this monthly column in 2022, please get in touch with Editor, Tara Hamid: firstname.lastname@example.org