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Supporting Construction and Trucking Workers’ Wellbeing

Written byTracy Long

April 8, 2024

Managing the Mental Load

Mental health issues are prevalent across all industries, but certain sectors like construction and trucking tend to have higher rates of problems like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. According to the CDC, construction workers have the second highest suicide rate among industries, with 53.3 per 100,000 workers.  While, mental health challenges, including underdiagnosed depression, are also increasing in the trucking industry, affecting over six million men annually.

The high-stress nature of these jobs contributes heavily to poor mental wellbeing. Construction workers face tight deadlines, hazardous conditions, job insecurity, and a macho culture that discourages seeking help. Truck drivers endure long hours, isolation, lack of exercise and healthy food, and separation from family. Both fields have high rates of suicide – over 2x the national average for construction workers and 7x higher for truck drivers.

This training will provide managers and employees in high-stress fields with techniques to recognize signs of mental health struggles, reduce workplace stressors, support individuals in need, and foster an environment where people feel comfortable asking for help. By promoting mental wellbeing, companies can increase productivity, boost morale, reduce absenteeism, and save lives.

Signs of Poor Mental Health

Mental health issues can manifest in various ways. Being able to recognize the signs is crucial for getting employees the help they need. Here are some key symptoms to look out for:

Depression

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite and sleep patterns
  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

 Anxiety

  • Excessive feelings of worry or fear
  • Restlessness and inability to relax
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Panic attacks

Suicide Warning Signs

  • Expressing thoughts about suicide, like “I wish I wasn’t here”
  • Researching ways to die by suicide
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, and activities
  • Dramatic mood changes
  • Giving away possessions
  • Saying goodbye as if they won’t be seen again
  • Self-destructive behavior like drug/alcohol abuse

Being attentive to these signs and checking in with employees exhibiting them can help get them the support they need before their mental health declines further.

Causes of Poor Mental Health

Mental health issues in the workplace often stem from high-stress environments and a lack of support systems. Common causes include:

Workplace Stressors

  • Heavy workloads – Employees facing unmanageable workloads and tight deadlines are more prone to stress and burnout. This is especially true in high-pressure industries like construction.
  • Long hours – Working excessive hours frequently leads to fatigue and emotional exhaustion. It makes it difficult to find a healthy work-life balance.
  • Job insecurity – Concerns over potential layoffs or company instability can create persistent anxiety.
  • Conflict – Interpersonal conflict with coworkers or management can be a significant source of stress.
  • Lack of autonomy – Micromanagement and lack of control over one’s work can diminish morale.

Lack of Work-Life Balance

  • No separation – With remote work blurring the line between work and personal life, employees may feel like they can never “switch off.”
  • Family demands – Juggling work obligations with family responsibilities places strain on mental health.
  • No downtime – Not taking vacations or time to relax and recharge leads to burnout.

Feeling Isolated or Unsupported

  • Lack of community – Loneliness and lack of social connections impact mental health. Some work environments are highly isolating.
  • No open communication – When employees feel they cannot openly discuss concerns, anxiety and detachment can occur.
  • Uncaring leadership – Management that is indifferent to employee wellbeing damages morale and trust.
  • Minimal recognition – Employees want their efforts and achievements, no matter how small, to be valued.

Impacts on Employees

Employees suffering from poor mental health can have significant impacts on their work performance and engagement. Some of the key impacts include:

  • Lower productivity– Employees experiencing mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or excessive stress often have difficulty concentrating, focusing, and completing tasks efficiently. This leads to an overall reduction in productivity and output. 
  • Increased absenteeism– Mental health struggles frequently cause employees to miss work more often due to health appointments, needing time off for their condition, or lacking motivation to come into work. High absenteeism disrupts workflow and places strain on coworkers.
  • Poor morale– Employees with untreated mental health problems often have lower energy, confidence, and optimism. They may withdraw from colleagues and social interactions. This erodes morale, engagement, and satisfaction at work.

The downstream effects of these issues include higher turnover, weaker performance, and a more negative work environment. It’s critical that employers recognize how mental health impacts employees and take proactive steps to provide support.

Impacts on Employers

Employers suffer significant impacts when employees struggle with mental health problems. Some key impacts include:

  • High turnover: Employees experiencing depression, anxiety, or excessive stress are more likely to quit their jobs. Replacing employees is expensive – estimated to cost 1/3 to 2x the employee’s salary on average. High turnover also disrupts team cohesion and causes loss of organizational knowledge.
  • More accidents and errors: Employees under stress or suffering from mental health issues like depression tend to have more lapses in concentration and judgment. This can lead to costly mistakes, quality problems, and safety incidents. Construction and trucking are already dangerous industries, so this effect is particularly concerning. 
  • Higher healthcare costs: Mental health conditions lead to more doctor visits, prescriptions, and even hospitalizations which drive up employer-sponsored health insurance costs. One estimate is that serious mental illness costs US employers over $190 billion per year in lost earnings and medical expenses.

Taking steps to support employee mental health is not only socially responsible but vital to protect the bottom line. Poor mental health harms productivity, increases costs, and puts workers in harm’s way. Prioritizing this issue is an investment that pays dividends across the whole organization.

Reducing Workplace Stress

A high-stress work environment can negatively impact employees’ mental health and wellbeing. However, there are steps employers can take to reduce workplace stressors. 

Allow Flexible Scheduling

Giving employees more control over their schedules can greatly reduce stress. Consider implementing flex schedules, remote work options, and generous vacation time. Allowing workers to have a better work-life balance enables them to manage their stress levels.

Provide Mental Health Days 

In addition to vacation days, allow employees a few extra “mental health days” each year. Knowing they have days specifically for their mental wellbeing empowers staff to take a break when they really need it. This prevents burnout and deteriorating mental health due to overwork.

Foster Social Connections

Loneliness and isolation at work can exacerbate mental health issues. Promote social connections between employees by organizing group activities, allowing chat breaks, and creating collaboration opportunities. A strong support network among coworkers enables them to better handle daily stressors.

Supporting Employees

A supportive workplace environment is crucial for maintaining employees’ mental health. There are several key ways employers can provide support:

Ensuring Access to Mental Healthcare

  • Offer comprehensive mental health benefits that make counseling, therapy, and psychiatric care accessible and affordable. This includes adequate coverage and low or no copays.
  • Provide information on utilizing mental health benefits. Many employees don’t take advantage of resources available to them.
  • Consider offering free counseling sessions or access to mental health apps. Even small investments show employees their wellbeing is valued.

Promoting Open Conversations About Mental Health

  • Destigmatize mental health issues by encouraging open dialogue. Make it clear employees can discuss these topics without judgement.
  • Provide mental health training for all employees on recognizing issues and supporting each other.
  • Share stories of employees who have experienced mental health challenges and recovered with support. This builds empathy and understanding.

Training Managers on Compassion and Support

  • Equip managers to recognize warning signs of mental health struggles. Make sure they know how to approach employees compassionately.
  • Teach managers to accommodate mental health needs, like allowing time off or adjusted workloads without penalty.
  • Encourage managers to check in regularly with employees about their wellbeing and offer help when needed.
  • Provide sensitivity training to prevent managers from dismissing mental health concerns or making them taboo.

Preventing Suicide

Recognizing warning signs is crucial for preventing suicide. Look for changes in behavior or mood, increased substance use, reckless behavior, withdrawing from others, difficulty sleeping, or talking about death or not wanting to be alive. Take all warning signs seriously and have compassionate conversations to learn more about how the person is feeling. 

Removing means of self-harm is also important. Secure firearms, medications, and other dangerous items if someone is at risk of suicide. 

Referring people to mental health professionals can provide the support needed during a crisis. Have resources on hand like suicide prevention hotlines so people can easily get help when needed. With caring support and access to treatment, many people can overcome thoughts of suicide before they turn to action.

Creating a Supportive Culture

A supportive workplace culture is crucial for maintaining employees’ mental health. Organizations should take the following steps:

  • Provide mental health awareness training. Educate employees and leadership about common mental health issues, how to recognize signs in themselves and coworkers, and how to seek help confidentially. Training reduces stigma and empowers people to support each other.
  • Enforce a zero-tolerance policy for bullying and stigma. Make it clear through policies and actions that demeaning, isolating, or harassing people over mental health conditions will not be tolerated. Lead by example in modeling compassion.
  • Offer an employee assistance program (EAP). EAPs give employees and their families free, confidential access to counseling, referrals, and other support for personal and work-related issues. Usage should be encouraged and destigmatized.

By promoting openness, providing resources, and showing care for the whole person, companies can build work cultures where employees feel safe being vulnerable and asking for help. The benefits include better mental health, job satisfaction, productivity, and retention.

Conclusion

Mental health issues in high-stress workplaces like construction and trucking are common but often overlooked. This training aimed to provide practical steps employers can take to recognize warning signs, support struggling employees, and foster a caring work culture.  

Key points covered included:

  • Common signs of mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and suicidal thinking. Look for changes in mood, behavior, productivity.
  • Leading causes are high job demands, lack of support, trauma, and work-life imbalance. Understand how the nature of these jobs can contribute.
  • Impacts on employees include reduced wellbeing and functioning. Impacts on the company include absenteeism, errors, and turnover.
  • Ways to reduce stress include reasonable workloads, breaks, wellness benefits, and boundary setting. Enable employees to recharge.
  • Support struggling employees through checking in, offering resources, and making accommodations. Don’t ignore cries for help.
  • Suicide prevention means taking all signs seriously and connecting people with help. Most suicidal individuals don’t actually want to die.
  • Building a caring culture requires modeling healthy behaviors, promoting openness, and connecting people. Make mental health a priority.

Employers must make mental health a top priority. Implement the recommendations in this training to create a supportive environment. Recognize that psychological safety is just as important as physical safety. By looking after employees’ overall wellbeing, you empower them to do their best work while avoiding preventable tragedies. The time is now to create change.

 

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