Most of us go to our jobs each day without ever thinking a coworker won’t be coming in because he or she took their own life. Tragically, it is becoming more common—the suicide rate is at its highest point in 50 years in the U.S.
It’s a fact worth taking the time to pause and reflect on today, World Suicide Prevention Day. Each year, September 10 is designated as a day to increase awareness worldwide that suicide can be prevented. Family members, friends, and even employers can improve their ability to see people who have suicidal thoughts and potentially help them.
According to the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for people of all ages and responsible for more than 800,000 deaths each year—that’s one suicide every 40 seconds.
In heavy manufacturing and construction sites, traditionally dominated by men, the stigma of mental illness can be lethal. These environments are not typically places where workers can feel comfortable discussing their problems. In the U.S., the construction sector has a suicide rate of up to 53 per 100,000, which is four times higher than the general population, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another study discovered that men comprised more than 75% of suicides in the EU.
In many cases, it’s workplace conditions that are just as detrimental to an individual’s mental health as anything else. These include poor ergonomics, exposure to hazards, increasing work demands, and employment insecurity. Poor mental health can lead to lost revenue due to decreased productivity, potential safety risks, low morale, and loss of reputation, to name a few.
To truly enact a healthy workplace, change must begin at the top with upper management. Senior leaders need to foster an environment that empowers workers to feel comfortable discussing mental health issues. A mental health program should be delivered consistently to all stakeholders, including the contract workers who come on your site or are supervised by a subcontractor.
The Avetta executive team recommends the eight-step approach to mental health adopted by Business in the Community, a corporate social responsibility organization based in the U.K. By following these recommendations, you can help improve mental health at your organization.
Make a Commitment
Demonstrate a commitment to mental health by signing a commitment policy or statement of intent. You can publicize that commitment by designating a mental health champion to lead your action plans. As with most corporate initiatives, this commitment needs to be endorsed by the CEO or top company executives. Then share it frequently, publicly and with all employees.
Build an Approach
After you’ve committed to a mental health policy, perform an assessment of the organization’s mental health needs and then use that feedback to implement relevant workplace policies and plans. Include well-defined action items that can be tracked at least annually. You could even create your own NPS score on how the company is doing toward achieving those goals.
Create a Positive Culture
Create a positive culture with continuous engagement and communication with management regarding mental health, anti-bullying, anti-discrimination, and other related policies. The beneficial impact of a healthy work/life balance cannot be underestimated. As you seek both employee and contractor feedback and pursue mental health initiatives such as educating employees on coping skills and behaviors, you’ll begin to bring a higher purpose to their work, helping create added fulfillment in their lives and thus improving employee mental health.
Helping direct managers to identify individuals who may be experiencing problems can prevent workers from going down a dangerous path. Conduct training on workplace health, stress risk assessments, and strategies for managing illness-related absences. Also, empower managers to learn the best ways to accommodate employees with mental health issues.
Manage Mental Health
Be open about everyone’s mental health. Dr. Shaun Davis, Global Director of Safety, Health, Wellbeing, and Sustainability for the Royal Mail Group and co-author of Positive Male Mind: Overcoming Mental Health Problems, suggests employers should change the way they approach the subject with men to reduce the stigma of mental health. He recommends rephrasing the discussion in a way that’s more appealing to a male workforce. “You can get people in leadership positions to talk about their experiences,” Davis says. “That in itself will help to normalize it, but also if you move the discussion … to be more about mental strength instead of mental weakness, I think you’ll get people to open up a lot more.”
Provide Proper Support
The earlier you provide support, the better—early intervention is critical. Train staff members to spot the signs of mental distress so they can direct employees to helpful resources quickly. Start with an informal chat and then move to a more formal meeting if more intervention is needed. Maintain workers’ privacy with private conversations only, and be supportive by asking questions such as, “How are you doing?” and “You don’t seem to be yourself lately. Is anything wrong?”
Help Workers Recover
If someone is having a mental health challenge, explain how the organization will support them in returning to work. If absent, stay in touch with them during their absence to monitor progress and implement plans for their return.
Continue to Refine and Improve the Approach
Monitor your mental health program through employee surveys and feedback. Improve through additional training, improved communication and ongoing initiatives outlined by employees. Don’t forget to include temporary, remote, and contract workers. In your procurement process, hire qualified contractors who commit to your standards of mental health policies and standards, Davis says.
“I think practically minded people who work in businesses like construction respond really well to guidance and tools and insights, so I think if you give them the tools and a consistent message they can convey down the supply chain that takes away the fear factor that’s often associated with talking about mental health,” says Davis.
The benefits of a formal mental health program include lower absenteeism, reduced turnover, and fewer negative behaviors. The Centre of Mental Health in the United Kingdom calculated that male mental health cost business up to £34.9bn in 2018. In the U.S., it was found that a $1 investment in treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a return of $4 in better health and ability to work. “Organizations realize additional benefits can include a positive brand reputation, which can help the company with recruitment, onboarding, and retention,” says Davis.
As we reflect on World Suicide Prevention Day, a comprehensive, well-planned mental health strategy that encourages openness in labor-intensive industries is essential for future business success and employee satisfaction. Maybe your efforts toward better worker mental health can help someone in need.
|Richard Parke is Senior Vice President for Global Supplier Services at Avetta.|