The wellness crisis

Jun 26, 2022

It is up to us to do what we can to improve our employees’ mental and physical health, as well as our own.

For most of us in the construction industry, when we think of health and wellness, we think about safety on the job site and how important it is to protect our workers from the fatal four: falls, electrocution, struck by objects, and caught between. But what actually harms people on a much larger scale is less frequently contemplated or discussed: wellness of the mind and body.

A National Survey on Drug Use and Health puts construction at the top of all industries for drug and alcohol abuse. Their data ranks construction:

  • No. 2 for heavy drinking by industry
  • No. 2 for substance use disorder by industry
  • No. 1 for pain reliever abuse by industry

And when looking at the health of workers, according to the American Heart Association:

  • One in 25 construction workers has cardiovascular disease
  • One in four construction workers is obese
  • One in four construction workers uses tobacco
  • One in 25 construction workers has diabetes

Even more troubling, the construction industry has the highest suicide rate among all industries. In fact, suicide is four times more common in construction than the national average, and five times more common than all construction fatalities combined. This numbing information, provided by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, is hard to accept.

It is up to us to do what we can to improve our employees’ mental and physical health, as well as our own. If you are looking for a way to start, here are a few suggestions.

For construction employers:

  • Learn more about your team. Asking the question, “How are things going?” isn’t enough. It’s about taking a genuine interest in your employees’ lives and showing empathy for what they may be experiencing. This can be accomplished by planning time for conversations unrelated to work and finding ways to help. For example, taking some administrative burdens off their shoulders or showing them the resources, the company has to offer. Let your people know that you care, want to help, and that you hear them.
  • Offer resources. Make certain all your employees are aware of your company’s Employee Assistance Program, what it can do for them, and how to access it – and do this frequently, both as a reminder and to include new staff members in this process. Offering materials such as wallet cards, self-assessment tools, flyers and brochures, books, and videos is a great way to encourage staff to think about their mental health and consider treatment options. Furthermore, offering health insurance with no or low out-of-pocket costs for mental health counseling shows that mental health is a priority. Placing posters with helplines around the office or worksite helps keep these topics easily accessible and visible.
  • Raise awareness. Consider starting your quarterly/annual meetings with a “safety moment” and discussing mental health topics. Conversations about stress, anxiety, depression, and suicide can be addressed at daily huddles, all-hands meetings, lunch and learns, and workshops. Providing employees with tips on stress management techniques, a healthy diet, adequate sleep benefits, and exercise may help them reduce anxiety and stress and increase motivation and focus. Offering facilitated workshops or presentations for your staff, such as those provided by NAMI, shows your commitment to protecting their mental health and provides critical information that may make a real difference for some on your team. The more frequently you promote awareness around these issues, the better chance you can make a real impact.

For office/field workers:

  • Get involved. If your workplace does not currently provide mental health education and programs, encourage them to do so. If they do, find ways to become engaged and support their efforts by participating. Consider assisting in the creation of a program. An example of this is at my firm, where we have a volunteer group named “Wellness Warriors,” who are accountable for getting various health and wellness options to our staff.
  • Share. Disclosing a meaningful personal experience with others can have a significant impact. We’ve had employees and members of our executive team openly reveal issues that they or their family members have faced. When someone in a group feels courageous and opens up, it allows others to feel like they can do the same. It is reassuring for all of us to know that others may have also gone through what we are going through. We are not alone and are most likely working next to others who have been in our shoes and understand what we are going through.
  • Have compassion. You never know what is causing someone to have a bad day, be impatient, or be rude. For many reasons (social, financial, health, family), we all encounter stress at work and at home. Staying mindful of what others may be going through is necessary for empathy, so practice focusing on your relationships with people and trying to imagine what another person might be experiencing. What could be causing them stress or anxiety? What might be weighing heavily on them? Even if there isn’t much you can do to help their situation; you can always provide some grace and allow room for them to be human. 

Keyan Zandy is CEO of Skiles Group. Find him on LinkedIn.

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