When you think of workplace hazards that cause death in the construction industry, your mind probably goes to accidents by falling, being crushed by heavy equipment or electrocution….
But there is a silent cause that is more deadly than any of these… suicide.
Globally, construction has one of the highest suicide rates among all industries.
In the U.S., suicide rates for men in construction are almost twice the rate of civilian working men.
In the U.K., close to 400 workers in the engineering and construction sectors die by suicide every year.
In Australia, a construction worker is lost every second day due to suicide.
The impacts of working within the construction industry are felt worldwide. These workers need support from their families, co-workers and most importantly, from their leaders who they report to every day.
The role of employers and building company owners in providing a safe and supportive environment for their workers is crucial in order to change the trajectory of suicide in construction.
But in order for leaders and business owners to be able to provide this level of support to their teams, They need to prioritise their own mental health and wellbeing first to ensure they can be there for their employees during tough times.
Knows The Way, Goes The Way, Shows The Way
Building company owners have a duty of care to their employees and are often legally obliged to make sure their worker’s environment is safe and will not be detrimental to mental health.
While it may seem obvious that construction safety hazards must be taken into account when providing employees with a safe working environment, often managers and leaders overlook how their workplace promotes positive mental health and wellbeing.
Building company owners have a role to play in identifying mental stress amongst their employees and being able to offer support and solutions when necessary.
However, part of the problem is that often no one is looking out for or checking in with the owners or leaders themselves.
“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”- John C. Maxwell. This quote is especially relevant for building company owners when it comes to taking control of the issue of mental health.
In order for leaders to teach their employees positive steps and habits towards their mental health, they must follow their own advice and prioritise their own health and wellbeing first and foremost.
Erasing The Stigmas
Majority of workers within the construction industry are male. It is widely known that men in general find it more difficult to speak about issues they might be facing than women.
By working in the construction industry, men often feel this means they need to be strong, both physically and mentally to manage the labour and tough conditions that are associated with the work, and don’t have the courage to speak up when they might not be feeling mentally tough.
This macho “don’t-ask-for-help” culture, coupled with the job’s “hire-and-fire” nature can leave workers feeling vulnerable and unable to speak up because they feel like they might be bullied or lose their job.
Building company owners arguably feel these stresses the most. Working long hours, often feeling alone, stressing about cash-flow levels and decision making can come with a sense of great responsibility.
Maintaining a brave face for your employees everyday when you are also faced with the struggles that are associated with working in construction, requires an additional level of bravery and strength.
A recent study by the Australian Treasury published in January 2021 found that 34% of small business owners in Australia reported a medical diagnosis of stress, anxiety or depression within the last 12 months.
45% of small business owners reported that they turned to their family for support, while only 18% turned to a colleague.
And most alarmingly, 48% of small business owners said they thought they would be treated poorly if they disclosed that they had a mental illness.
Uncertainty Plays A Role
COVID-19 has undoubtedly played a role in the poor mental health of building company owner’s as the stress of lockdowns has added uncertainty to the future of their company and security of their employees' jobs.
Around the world governments have been implementing lockdown measures that heavily impact the construction industry. Building company owners often don’t have a clear roadmap of what the future holds for their business and what this might mean for their employees.
These added unknowns only exacerbate the already highly stressful role of being a building company owner.
Now more than ever, building company owners and managers need to take control of their own mental health and wellbeing to ensure they can provide support to their staff.
Strategies You Can Implement Today
Keep Your Work Hours In Check
Building company owners often don’t work the same standard hours as their employees. Owning a business means that you have to work overtime to manage ad hoc tasks and management requirements that cannot be delegated to someone else.
It is important for your mental health that you learn to prioritise what is urgent and otherwise leave some tasks to be completed at another time to ensure you aren’t over-working as this can lead to further mental stress and even burnout.
Take A Lunch Break Every Day
Taking a lunch break every day gives your brain the ability to re-charge and restore capacity for the afternoon.
It might seem like a simple solution, but taking time each day to switch off from work related tasks to have a substantial lunch and engage with colleagues will increase your coping abilities and give you time to reset.
Take Regular Breaks
Building company owners need to take regular time off to recharge, even if it’s just for 1 day. Get away from the business and allow your mind to reset. Not only does it refill your mental stamina, it gives you the opportunity to see how the business is operating without you (something that needs to happen for you to run a successful business).
Lead the way - Tell Your Employees How You’ve Been Feeling
The best way to promote positive mental wellbeing amongst employees is to lead the way. As a building company owner, you can introduce strategies within your team to open the dialogue around mental health so your team knows they have a safe environment to speak about how they are feeling.
This doesn’t have to be a formal procedure either… you could simply ask your employees how their weekend was or if they’ve encountered any lowlights recently, and if they would like any of their teammate’s support navigating these issues.
As a leader, if you pave the way by also being open and honest with your employees about how you’re feeling, this will encourage them to do the same.
Work with a Mentor or Coach
Being the owner of a building company means that you’re the person that people turn to to solve problems and provide support, but it’s important that you also have someone who can provide the same level of mentorship and guidance to you.
By engaging an industry specific business coach/mentor, you will always have someone to work through the challenges you might be facing in your building company and personal life. Generic coaches and accountants don’t have the industry knowledge and experience to give you the step-by-step guidance that is needed to run a successful building company.
Importantly, when you have a mentor who you regularly meet with, you are able to share what is going on in your personal life and seek their advice. This way, a mentor can keep you accountable to make sure you stay mentally strong.
Celebrate The Small Wins
One way to stimulate strong mental health is to celebrate the wins, big or small. Building company owners often face a lot of stress due to delays, contract issues, employee turnover, supplies/materials and so much more… It’s easy to get caught up in what’s not going right, rather than celebrating what has gone right.
It’s important to maintain perspective and constantly remind yourself of what you have achieved to get to where you are today.
To learn how the Association of Professional Builders are working to improve the construction industry for both builders and consumers click here.
If you need to speak with someone about the state of your mental health or are having suicidal thoughts, please dial one of the numbers below based on your region:
US: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
AU: Lifeline 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
CA: Canada Suicide Prevention Service 1-833-456-4566 or 45645
NZ: Lifeline 09 5222 999
UK: UK National Suicide Prevention Helpline 0800 689 5652.
If you are in need of an emergency, please dial the number below based on your region:
UK: 999 or 112
Rest of the world
To find out more about how to maintain mental toughness and build resilience during challenging and uncertain times, watch our FREE online presentation covering suicide in the construction industry and how you can help prevent it.
Click the button below to watch it free now.