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Getting On The Front Foot About Mental Health

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A proactive approach to good mental health is crucial for the construction industry, which sees a disproportionate number of its workforce affected by mental health issues. Those working in the construction industry are more than twice as likely to suicide as other people in Australia, and about 21% of the workforce is estimated to suffer from some form of a mental health condition.

Jobsite ANZ spoke with Rhett Morris, Owner and Director of Bulletproof People about the practical steps that need to be taken to address this growing concern in the industry.

Morris founded Bulletproof People over nine years ago. He works with leaders and teams to improve the way employees perform under pressure, and the construction industry is his key focus. Prior to founding Bulletproof People, Morris was the CEO of One80TC, a rehabilitation centre in NSW, and gained experience as a social worker.

Early Intervention

Morris wants the construction industry to “get on the front foot” with regards to handling the pressures that professionals are exposed to on a daily basis.

“The construction industry is notorious for very tight schedules and incredibly tight overheads. You have all the makings of people cracking under pressure,” says Morris. 

“The construction industry is notorious for very tight schedules and incredibly tight overheads. You have all the makings of people cracking under pressure,” says Morris. “And when they do crack, they often still have to keep going — the job has to get done.”

Morris notes that many workers in the construction industry have to contend with more challenges than ever before. That’s why an early intervention becomes a key component of ensuring their long-term ability, motivation, and health in doing their jobs.

“The jobs these days are very different. The safety regulations, the laws that are in place, client intricacies, job difficulties, public scrutiny —  these are the reasons for this type of training. These guys are facing a new type of pressure — it’s not the job itself, but all the stuff that surrounds it,” he says.

Key Focus Areas

Morris stresses the importance of building resilience, especially with workers contending with long hours and often little recovery periods between major projects. As such, Bulletproof People’s program focuses on three areas.

  1. Situational awareness – building “the ability for workers to articulate what they are thinking and how they are feeling to their teams.” This involves creating an environment where teams feel comfortable providing feedback. 

  2. Resetting priorities – “how quickly can [workers] change or adapt to a priority that has been reset? The longer it takes, the greater the risk of collateral damage in their own heads.”

  3. Practical strategies – “teaching the principles of calm, control, and clarity. We should assess things like energy management, fatigue management, sleeping routine, how they fuel themselves during the day. Workers often skip meals, and their blood sugar levels are all over the place.”

Getting Employee Buy-In

Morris has observed that managers and leaders are becoming a lot more aware of the need for a proactive approach to mental health. However, it isn’t always easy to get employee buy-in.

“It’s all good and well to teach someone to handle their stress better, but [workers] are very smart and they will [say], ‘well, what’s the point in showing me how to handle my stress better when you’ve got an unrealistic schedule in place. Or you want me to be more resilient, even though you won’t take responsibility to improve the schedule, the work hours, or the shift swing.’”

Morris says the key to addressing these concerns is to eliminate the low-hanging fruit.

“Things like weather, client demands, the difficulty of the job — they’re all beyond your control. However, the things within our control, we need to get them right before starting a proactive mental health plan. Otherwise, workers are going to see straight through it.”

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