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Working well in…Construction -organisations supporting employee mental health

By Tasha Broomhall

An employer’s basic legal responsibility is to not discriminate against an employee because of mental illness and to provide reasonable workplace adjustments to support employees with mental illness. However, many managers and supervisors do not know what this actually translates to in terms of behaviour, actions and supports. There is little balance in typical responses with some employers providing so much flexibility and support to employees with mental health issues that it negatively impacts on the organisation. For example, other employees may have to carry too onerous a workload, or adjustments to working hours may have a negative impact on operational needs, and so on. And yet other organisations are so inflexible that they won’t even make small adjustments, such as allowing an employee to work flexible hours to attend medical appointments. 

We interview three organisations with very different operational needs and looked at the ways they are trying to strike this important balance in responding to the mental health and wellbeing with their staff.  Todays article looks at mental health in the construction industry.

Working well in…construction

A recent report on mental health in the workplace published by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), states that 25.1% of workers in the construction industry experienced mental illness in the previous 12 months. This is higher than the national average, which predicts that 20% of adults will experience mental illness each year. Recognised issues in the construction industry which may affect the prevalence rates, include: personal concerns around employment security; and ongoing levels of stigma around mental illness (which may prevent some seeking assistance in the male dominated work force).
The financial impact on Australian businesses is estimated at an annual loss of $10.9 billion as a result of neglecting to address mental health in the workplace. However the business case is strong for proactively addressing the mental health of your work force and for developing a positive mental health culture. The PwC report indicates that for every $1 invested in mental health initiatives, construction industry employers can expect an average of $2.50 return.
This month Tasha Broomhall spoke to Khanh Nguyen, the General Manager and Director of Civcon, Civil and Project Management to learn how a young and rapidly expanding company in the construction industry is addressing the issue of employee mental health and wellbeing.

TB: As a business owner and company director, is mental health a relevant issue in your workplace?

KN: Yes. Mental health is one of the major issues in my business, and the construction industry in general.  I personally take these issues very seriously. We have a zero harm culture in the business, and this encompasses mental health, rehabilitation, safety at the work site, fatigue management, work life balance, and sustainability. With regards to mental health, the leadership team and I actively monitor the wellbeing of our staff.   We encourage employees with mental health issues to advise senior management, whether it is them personally or a family member who is experiencing problems. We then provide appropriate assistance. We also have a business coach available to all employees who may want to discuss the issue and seek advice.

TB: If a current employee discloses mental health issues, how do you respond?

KN: We provide assistance at work through time off, or referral to our company doctor, or by reducing the workload, if the individual wishes to continue working during this period.

TB: If you have noticed that an employee is experiencing signs of a possible mental health issue, but they have not yet disclosed it to you, what would you do?

KN: I would personally ask him/her if he/she is ok (confidentially) and offer assistance. We would then continue to monitor the individual.

TB: If an employee is affected at work because they are caring for a family member with mental health issues, how would you manage this?

KN: I would offer assistance to the employee and family member where possible. I would ask the employee to take time off and reduce his workload so that he can care for the family member. We have supported employees in this situation in the past with a range of approaches, including time off to care for a loved one or reducing their workload, and additional financial and time support to take a family holiday.

TB: If an employee is very unwell with mental health issues and is unable to meet the requirements of their role, how would you manage this?

KN: We provide medical assistance and time off in the first instance. Then, we monitor his/her performance at work to see if he/she can cope with the normal workload. If this is not achieved, we provide feedback to the individual and give him/her time to get back to normal duties. If this is not possible, we then have an in depth discussion with the individual. Depending on the circumstances, we would attempt to provide alternative roles within the business to fit their capabilities.

TB: Do you have high levels of stress in your workplace?

KN: Yes, this is typical in the construction industry. We often work very long hours, with clients who expect a very high level of service and we are working in a competitive market.

TB: How do you manage this stress?

KN: We manage this through awareness of the stress levels, time out to breathe, relax and recharge. The most important thing is to be aware of the stress and put management tools in place. We model this as leaders in our business. Personally, I find that I am able to achieve this balance through making time for fishing, time out with my family, gym and exercise, as well as taking holidays.

TB: What (if any) proactive strategies do you have in your workplace to create a psychologically healthy workforce?

KN: Through our company values we promote zero harm, plenty of support, teamwork, and the courage to speak out. Everyone at work is expected to assist one another, and the company is openly supportive of any mental health issues.

For the full article and more workplace mental health information go to https://issuu.com/bloomingminds/docs/bm_apr_16_issue3

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