As a project nears completion in the construction industry, the focus of each member of your crew is usually on what comes next. They think about if they will still have a job after the project is complete, where the next job will be or if they will need to look for work. Project completion creates a great deal of uncertainty for your crew, but also you. You can only be profitable if you have additional projects to complete and skilled workers to do the work. Most of your employees are probably unaware of the stress you experience as projects are completed, and you are likely unaware of their stress also.
Being open and communicating our stress is often the beginning element for better understanding. In July I asked, “Are You Listening?” Leaders (especially in our industry, which has a higher suicide rate) should strive to ensure their company provides an open environment where employees are comfortable discussing the issues of mental health, substance use and suicide. It can be all too easy to shy away from these topics out of fear and/or a lack of understanding. As signatory contractors, however, we understand all too well that “easy” is not always the right solution. Our industry needs to discuss these issues, and your employees need to feel comfortable bringing them up.
An important step to understanding is awareness. I was unaware of the difficulty of our oldest son’s journey until I attended a Family-to-Family class provided by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I learned a great deal about various mental illnesses, medications and their side effects. But what I really learned was that I wasn’t alone; others in the group also had loved ones living with a mental illness. Your company can provide an environment where your employees will not feel alone as they cope with a mental illness, substance use disorder or suicidal thoughts.
As a company leader, I encourage you to become more aware of these issues by reviewing some of the following resources: www.afsp.org, www.iupathelpinghand.org, www.nami.org, www.nimh.nih.gov, www.preventconstructionsuicide.com, www.samhsa.gov, www.save.org, www.sprc.org, www.suicideinfo.ca, and www.suicideprevention.ca. These resources have allowed me to be more open and compassionate about the issues of mental health, substance use disorder and suicide.
When enacting change, action is the next step following awareness. What action will you be willing to take in your company? When an employee needs and asks for a mental health day, how will you respond? Will you be able to refer resources to that employee? Will you consider that employee to be weak and unable to do their job? Would you look at the situation differently if the employee asked for a vacation day, and if yes, why?
In the painting industry decades ago, it was considered a weakness if an employee asked for a respirator while spraying. The reaction was, “Can’t you handle it?” It was considered a badge of courage to spray without a respirator. Thankfully our industry created a better standard. We can and must do the same with issues regarding mental health, substance use disorder and suicide prevention. We do not have to accept the impact these illnesses have on our industry as a given. We can do better. I hope that you are willing to help create a new standard of excellence in your company just as you have done regarding their safety.
Like in the construction industry, all projects must come to an end, and so does this one for me. I chose to make this my last publication of “You are Not Alone.” I want to close by saying I am exceedingly grateful to FCA International for allowing me the opportunity to write this blog for the past five years; now it’s time for me to be open and discover what comes next. I also want to give a special thanks to Jeremy Fitch, FCA’s Director of Communications, for his assistance in enhancing my message each month. Hopefully I have provided benefit to each of you.
I cannot stress enough that it is ok to ask for help, and you are not alone.
We live in uncertain times, and all that we have thankfully is each other. Let’s make taking care of each other a higher priority in our industry.