On-Site Magazine

Making mental health a priority

October 5, 2021   By Andrew Snook

Since the onset of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the construction industry has had to adapt to a wide variety of challenges. From global supply chain disruptions to raw materials shortages, regularly changing safety regulations and lockdowns, there’s been a ton for the sector to overcome.

As much as the above-mentioned issues have been highlighted in the media at times throughout the pandemic, there has been an even bigger spotlight cast on another issue facing the country: the mental health of Canadians.

The added stress of the pandemic on our day-to-day lives has pushed many people to the brink, and there’s plenty of reasons why contractors need to pay close attention to this issue and have programs and procedures in place to help their workers.

Employee burnout is a very real — and very costly — problem for the construction industry.

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It’s no secret that Canada’s construction sector has been battling a massive shortage in skilled workers for more than decade. In the BuildForce Canada’s national report, 2021-2030 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward, it is expected that industry will require more than 309,000 new workers to replace employees who are retiring and to keep pace with demand. Current projections show that there will be a shortfall of workers in the industry of close to 100,000. This doesn’t account for all the workers leaving their positions due to stress during the pandemic, who may not ever return.

Many employees who are struggling with their mental health have had those issues exacerbated by the stress of working and living through the pandemic, creating full-blown employee burnout in many cases. This kind of employee burnout is prevalent across all industries right now, and it results in huge costs to companies and Canada’s economy.

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), at any given time, approximately 500,000 Canadians are unable to work due to mental health problems. This includes an estimated 355,000 disability cases due to mental and/or behavioural disorders, and about 175,000 full-time workers absent from work due to mental illness.

How costly is this exactly? Very.

The CAMH states that the economic cost of mental illness in Canada stands at approximately $51 billion per year from a combination of health care costs, lost productivity, and reductions in health-related quality of life.

The organization also states that the cost of a disability leave related to a mental illness is, on average, about twice as much as an employee taking leave due to a physical illness. Considering how serious construction companies take issues and legislation surrounding leave due to physical injury and illness, one would expect contractors to take the mental health of their workers very seriously. But until recently, many companies didn’t take this issue seriously – some still don’t.

That said, the old school attitude to tell workers to “Deal with your issues on your own time,” is slowly eroding thanks to some forward-thinking companies that understand the long-term costs of not helping employees manage their mental health.

Large companies like EllisDon and Mammoet Canada have gone to great lengths to promote the positive mental health of their employees (for more details on this, see the cover story on page 36 of the October issue of On-Site).

In addition to individual companies making efforts to promote mental health in the workplace, industry associations are stepping forward to promote mental wellbeing in the workplace to their members. If you’re in need of resources, reach out to your local and national associations for assistance. There’s a good possibility they have something ready to go to help you promote positive mental health in the workplace.

Stay safe out there.