From one tradie to another: How to support mental wellbeing on the worksite

tradies mental health

Former plumber and founder of Fergus Dan Pollard. Source: supplied.

There’s no doubt that Australians are feeling the impacts of lockdowns and restrictions, with recent ABS findings revealing that one in five Australians experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress in June 2021.

Tight lockdowns and a construction shutdown paired with rising costs of materials has made an already tough year even harder for those in the trades industry. If you’re running a business during this time, the additional challenge of supporting staff while managing business uncertainty can take its toll.

This year’s R U OK? Day holds more weight than ever. Workers are already familiar with the importance of mental wellbeing, so this year needs to focus on education and long-term support. For those running businesses in the trades industry or in a male-dominated environment, here are our tips for supporting your employees without compromising your own mental wellbeing.

Make open communication the norm

Trade industries have traditionally been brandished with a ‘macho’ persona that discourages people from asking for help when it comes to mental health Research has found that women are more likely than men to feel high levels of distress, but men are much more likely to bottle up their feelings.

Some 75% of those who take their own life are male and construction workers are at least six times more likely to die by suicide than on workplace accidents. These stats speak volumes and business owners must promote open communication rather than allowing this characteristic to define their workplace.

After all, in the age of social distancing, finding ways to connect with staff is more important than ever.

Even seemingly small initiatives like hosting regular toolbox talks to discuss workplace behaviour and safety, as well as communicating a strong stance on things like workplace bullying can go a long way in encouraging open communication in the workplace.

Businesses can also implement their own wellness programs that normalise seeking support with company partnerships or access to counselling services for staff. By creating a solid support foundation, staff will feel more valued resulting in lower turnover and absenteeism.

Arm yourself with knowledge

Everyone handles stress differently, so it may not be so obvious if an employee or co-worker is struggling. The prospect of responding to someone that has told you they aren’t OK can be very daunting if you don’t have the right resources to help them. Inversely, tradies may feel pressured to open up about their mental health on R U OK? Day when they might not be ready to disclose how they feel.

There’s a bevvy of organisations that provide easily digestible information on the signs and symptoms of mental illness and what you can do to support others, such as ruok.org.au, Beyond Blue, TIACS.org and Mates in Construction.

As a rule of thumb, if someone opens up to you, you need to make sure to reserve judgement, listen to them carefully, offer to help them find help rather than offer it yourself, and maintain regular check-ins with them even after they’ve found help.

Lean on technology

Running a business is a stressful task in itself and the impacts of a global pandemic is making it harder to achieve work life balance. Tradies have never been so time-poor, with homeowners pouring money into home renovations and lockdowns causing backlogs of work. Materials shortages and price fluctuations are creating even more admin to get jobs completed on time whilst maintaining a profit margin.

Technology is constantly improving how tradies do business, and can be a game-changer in giving business owners and their staff back time. Small business owners in particular can benefit immensely from adopting technology that streamlines their systems and automates processes such as quoting, invoicing and payroll. The efficiency gains not only relieve stress from the business owner, but give them greater insight and control over their business, freeing up their mental capacity to focus on other things.

It goes without saying that the intention behind R U OK? Day is fantastic, but now more than ever, we have moved past the need to simply raise awareness of mental health and illness. Business owners and their staff need to keep the conversation going all year round and ensure that helpful tools are leveraged and support measures are in place to create an environment that is that much less stressful.

If you or someone you know is at risk of harm, call Lifeline now on: 13 11 14

You call also contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636; Headspace on 1800 650 890; or The Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

Or, contact Beyond Blue’s COVID-19 support line on 1800 512 348.

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