In part one of this series, we took a closer look at the scale of mental health problems within the construction industry, as well as the resulting workplace risks. Here, we get a better understanding of the triggers and list the warning signs that employers should keep an eye out for.
The mental health stressors in construction
The construction industry brings on a wide range of stressors that have a detrimental impact on mental health. These include:
- Targets and deadlines: Construction is a tough competitive industry. It has targets and deadlines for completion of projects with financial penalties for delays and late completion. Many workers in construction feel the pressure and tension of having to compete to reach the production targets that have been set. They can be held personally responsible for any delays which may occur. Their jobs may depend on meeting the deadlines. Financial penalties can affect their income.
- Physical working conditions: Physical conditions on most sites can be challenging, as they are dynamic and may change constantly. There can be additional pressures from the weather, wind, rain, hail and snow adding to already difficult working conditions. Sites can be noisy and overbearing with plant and machinery on the move. Meeting deadlines can be more challenging in such circumstances.
- Daily commute: Many workers in construction have to travel away from their homes to work, which could involve long daily travel distances and many staying away from home. Loneliness can be a significant factor for many construction workers, contributing to their stress, depression and anxiety.
- The lack of job security: Many workers in construction are self-employed, working from contract to contract and to this extent job security is fragile and uncertain. This perception of job insecurity is another important stressor.
- Hazardous working activities: The work itself is often dangerous and testing and working against strict deadlines under pressure can make adhering to safe working procedures difficult. Some workers are consequently anxious about their own well-being while on site. Apart from the risk of accidents there is often a risk of exposure to hazardous substances such as asbestos and silica. Workers can experience stress and anxiety where they believe they may have been exposed to such hazardous substances and where development of a disease may take many years. Some workers have the added responsibility for the health and safety of others.
- The mental health stigma: A recent study on the mental health experiences of construction workers - published in Construction News - reveals a poor understanding of mental health vulnerabilities and a lack of interest and sympathy among line managers. Out of all those surveyed, 83 percent reported that there was not enough awareness, and 82 percent identified stigma as a problem. Meanwhile, sharing information with colleagues and managers about experiences of deteriorating mental health was identified as weak. Working in an environment that restricts expressing concerns of such nature, can also contribute to mental distress.
Warning signs to look out for
The Construction Financial Management Association best summed up the common signs that someone may be suffering from a depression or other mental health issues:
- Increased tardiness, absenteeism, and presenteeism (showing up to work physically, but not able to function)
- Family and Medical Leave requests due to long-term absences attributable to depression and other mental health illnesses
- Decreased productivity due to distraction and cognitive slowing
- Decreased self-confidence
- Isolation from peers
- Agitation and increased interpersonal conflict among co-workers leading to a potential for workplace violence
- Increased voluntary and involuntary attrition
- Increased overwhelming feelings
- Decreased problem-solving ability
Read on to find out how employers can support the mental wellbeing of their workforce!
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