This post was originally published on www.forbes.com.
Mental health in the workplace continues to be a silent crisis that demands our attention. As a leader in the construction industry, which holds the unfortunate distinction of having the second-highest rate of workplace suicide, I have seen firsthand the impact mental health struggles can have on employees; it is not something that can be ignored.
According to One Medical, in the last year, 64% of employees reported struggles with mental health within a variety of industries, and 91% said they were less productive as a result. These exceptionally high statistics should have every leader and company taking action to support mental health in the workplace.
As we all work to balance the demanding nature of our job—long hours, tight deadlines, high-pressure environments—along with personal stressors, there are several ways leaders can prioritize mental health day in and day out.
Be the company that doesn’t shy away from the subject of mental health, for it’s a topic that needs more attention. If you’re in a leadership role, empower others to have open conversations around the topic and ensure your company raises awareness. Reduce the stigma surrounding struggles in the workplace and actively contribute to an environment where seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
These conversations should start on day one of employment, and mental health resources should be incorporated into onboarding for new hires. Additionally, find ways to implement ongoing conversations about mental health.
Within my organization, construction field personnel kick off their day with what we call "toolbox talks," diving into specific topics spanning safety, ethics and yes, even mental health. This strategic inclusion of mental health within these "toolbox talks" helps establish a crucial norm—that open conversation is not only acceptable but imperative, especially considering 83% of construction workers have grappled with mental health challenges.
Make sure your company is continuously evaluating the available resources offered to employees, ensuring they effectively support their mental health. With how much has changed since the pandemic, it’s vital for companies to stay on top of new tools and trends to support employees’ well-being.
Then, whichever platform or program you choose, promote your robust wellness package. This could include benefits such as a wellness reimbursement program, employee assistance program, tools for fighting burnout, breathing techniques to reduce stress and tips for coping with uncertainty. By using the available resources, employees may be encouraged to seek help without fear or hesitation.
Leverage active support for mental health initiatives and participate in nurturing a mentally healthy work environment. One way to do this is by ensuring employees and managers have a strong and communicative relationship. This can be achieved if managers set the precedent of fostering a safe and open environment for employees, such as having regularly scheduled check-ins that allow for these open discussions.
If the employee is struggling, it’s crucial they feel safe being transparent with their direct report or supervisor. Reach out to your colleagues, other offices or family members if you need additional support while facing tough times.
Educate employees about the warning signs of distress, mental health struggles and suicide risk, empowering them to identify when someone around them may need help. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you hear or see something that isn’t sitting right with you. Additionally, advocate for mental health training and education. Equip one another with the knowledge and tools to identify and address mental health challenges and use the tools available to you.
In my tenure within the construction industry, I have personally seen employees struggle with various mental health challenges. These challenges were further intensified during the pandemic, especially for working parents.
I recall one of my employees who had recently returned from maternity leave attempting to balance her workload alongside caring for a three-month-old and two young school-aged children. Even as a father of three older kids, I couldn't fully grasp the extent of her situation during the pandemic; however, as a fellow parent, I felt a deep sense of empathy. I sent her children boxes filled with crafts, books and games to help keep them engaged during those extended periods of isolation.
It's crucial for leaders to be attuned to signs of employees grappling with difficulties and extend a helping hand. Even a small act of kindness has the potential to profoundly alter someone's perspective and well-being.
In recent years, the topic of mental health has become especially more prevalent as employees choose where they work. According to the American Psychological Association's 2022 survey, 81% of employees express the desire to look for an employer where they feel adequately supported when seeking new career opportunities.
Considering the rising demand for workplaces to support mental health initiatives, I believe putting people first should be at the heart of every employer’s actions. A successful organization thrives when it empowers, values and supports its employees. Being aware of how your employees are doing on a personal level and taking even just one simple action can have a huge impact on someone’s life. Let’s be honest, we all need help from time to time.