We’re examining how the construction industry can successfully incorporate mental health into workplace health and safety policies and processes. In part two of our two-part series (Part One is here), we’re talking to a construction company that improved their processes to better manage people and address issues before they become problems. Plus, we’ll discuss how to set up mental health policies and procedures that can take the action needed to address mental health issues in the workplace.
We know that good mental health is just as important as physical health, and that the construction industry has higher than average rates of mental health issues, including rates of suicides. Data assessment is the first step in determining what to do next. Once you have analyzed your organization’s data—grievances, injury claims, sick days and absenteeism, equipment and property damage, employee assistance program usage, turnover, and fatalities—it’s now time to take action.
A case study
Saskatoon’s Con-Tech General Contractors Ltd. has always had a strong safety program and commitment to workplace health and safety. The company decided to take further action around the overall health of their team a few years ago, and implemented a system—Kolbe—to better understand their employees’ strengths, communication styles, and more. “Kolbe assesses how people take action and are productive,” says Jamie Beherns, Con-Tech’s human resources and HSE manager. “We then use that data to ensure people are in the jobs that suit them.” This first step helps reduce stress and tension in the workplace at the very start, because people are placed where they should thrive. “We want people to be where they can do their best work,” says Beherns. “Kolbe helps us do that.”
The company’s approach also helps with workplace issues. “We had a site supervisor and an employee that just could not see eye-to-eye on a job,” says Beherns. “After going around in circles for a bit trying to find a solution, we checked their Kolbe profiles.”
They discovered that the two employees had completely different communication and working styles. “The site supervisor was detail-oriented and liked to tell people how to do a job. The staff member preferred to be shown how to do a new task. Once we figured this out, the tension disappeared and both knew how to work together successfully,” he says.
The company is also focused on how physical health can play a role in mental health. Con-Tech has a workplace program that encourages overall wellness. “We discuss all kinds of health topics in our health and safety meetings, such as nutrition and hydration,” says Beherns. “It may seem too easy, but encouraging healthy eating instead of daily fast food, and drinking water can have an impact on mental health. Feeling physically well can help you feel mentally well.”
Con-Tech also encourages physical fitness inside and outside the workplace. The office hosts yoga and Zumba classes, and promotes activities such as golfing, running and more. Beherns says that while not everyone participates in everything, seeing colleagues in activities encourages others to try it too. “We don’t force people to join things they aren’t interested in. However, we have noticed that participation encourages others to do the same.” The company has also provided training in things like mindfulness and meditation.
“Whatever you plan to provide, remember it takes time to build. Not everyone will embrace everything, and that’s okay,” says Beherns. “We have definitely seen improvement over time with more engagement, conversation and action on mental health. People now call with ideas on how to make our program even better.”
If you’re ready to address mental health in your company’s health and safety program, Beherns has some advice. First, it starts at the top. “Leadership has to buy into the idea, and walk the talk,” he says. “If senior leaders aren’t believers, staff won’t engage. You can’t expect people to participate in things their managers won’t.” He also says to approach it with reasonable expectations and the time to let it build. “Nothing changes overnight. You have to build carefully through one conversation at a time.”
It’s also important to get the right advice to create a strategy and a program that works for you. To improve performance, safety, well-being, retention, recruitment, absenteeism, turnover, and claim rates, you have to look at your current practices, find where you can make changes and make a commitment to improve. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, a successful strategy for a workplace mental plan requires programs, policies, benefits, training and assessment.
“We educate our members on how to identify hazards in their companies and job sites, which increasingly include mental health hazards and our audits verify that companies have implemented specific policies,” says Collin Pullar, SCSA’s president. “We also direct our members to outside experts who can provide specialized mental health services. Ultimately, mental health and safety in a company comes down to a management culture that encourages open dialogue and helps people find assistance when they need it.”