Creating a Culture for Mental Health in Your Construction Company

This week, we’re discussing a topic that you should be talking about openly in your construction company but probably aren’t: mental health. This important conversation covers the mental health stigma and how to fight it, free resources to help you incorporate mental health awareness into your company culture, and how to recognize the signs that someone on your team may be struggling.

Topics we cover in this episode include:

  • Why we don’t talk about mental health in the construction industry
  • How to help someone who is struggling
  • How do you get past the stigma of mental health?
  • Resources to help add mental health awareness to your corporate culture
  • Look out for these possible signs that an employee is struggling with their mental health

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Rob Williams, Profit Strategist |
Wade Carpenter, CPA, CGMA |
Stephen Brown, Bonding Expert |


[00:00:00] Rob Williams: Welcome to the Contractor Success Forum. Today we have a great subject that we all need to talk about. It is creating a culture for mental health in your construction company. It’s a big topic today. It’s hard to get excited about it, but it’s something that we really need to think about and care, and that’s one of the reasons that I’ve started my practice.

And who do we have with us? We have Wade Carpenter Carpenter, and Company, CPAs. And we have Stephen Brown, McDaniel-Whitley Bonding and Insurance Agency. And I’m Rob Williams with IronGate Entrepreneurial Support Systems. And we are on the Contractor Success Forum with you discussing how to run a more profitable, successful, construction business.

And maybe today, success is part about caring about our workers and the people that we work with every day. And the mental health of those people because we certainly are in a stressful business, guys, so.

[00:01:03] Wade Carpenter: Yeah. I mean a lot of times I don’t think we really realize things that happen and I know, we’ve all shared some stories, but I know Stephen’s got some he wanted to talk about today. It is sad to hear some of these stories in the construction business and part of the success of a contractor is having good people that take care of you, you wanna take care of them. So what do you think about that, Stephen?

[00:01:25] Stephen Brown: Yeah, it’s, guys, thanks. This is a huge topic because right now, especially the Associated General Contractors, the AGC, and the CFMA, Construction Financial Management Professionals, they’re all in on the issue of mental health. So, it took a while for safety to get into the corporate culture for contractors. And you might say, oh no, that’s always been the case. I promise you it hasn’t. In my career, just physical safety was not important. But now it’s equally important for mental health to be part of your corporate culture. 

And so mental health includes everything that makes you mentally healthy. Are you happy on the job, happy in general? Are you fulfilled in your work? Do you like what you’re doing? And then that goes all the way to the extreme, which is suicide. And the construction industry, according to the CDC survey, is four and a half times more likely to have suicides than any other industry.

So think of every industry out there that you would think the workers would be extremely stressed. And construction is four and a half times worse than the worst one. Steel workers, you name it. Construction industry’s worse. They say that in the construction industry there will be three suicides today from construction workers. And why is that? Because it’s a male dominated industry, and males are more likely to commit suicide. That’s a fact. But also it’s the mentality of the construction worker. They’re tough, they don’t complain, they’re stoic. Get the job done at all costs, that type of mentality is everywhere. 

Why we don’t talk about mental health

[00:03:14] Stephen Brown: And you know, we were talking earlier, guys, my dad was a World War II vet. He and my grandfather, who was a World War I vet, you think they talked about their feelings a lot? No. So there were no role for that. But ironically enough, my father was Commissioner of Mental Health for State of Tennessee for six years. So he knew how important it was. And taking the stigma away from talking about mental health is a way to get your company culture in the game.

You got to talk about it guys.

[00:03:46] Wade Carpenter: Yep. I know you were talking earlier Stephen about, the average construction worker, I mean, they’re getting up early and working hard all day and maybe not getting enough sleep. Can you talk about some of those kind of contributing factors and–

[00:04:00] Stephen Brown: Sure. Everything contributes to it. You’re away from your family, you’re having family problems. You have a loss in the family. You have a close family member that dies, you know, and the foreman’s saying, hey, get back to work. Deal with that on your own time. You know I’m not kidding. That happens all the time. 

Even if you get hurt and you have chronic pain from a physical injury that you got on the job and you start taking opioids, that increases your likelihood for suicide. So the whole point, guys, is to talk about it and how to talk about it. 

One interesting thing, and there was a YouTube video. We were talking about the length of YouTube videos needing to be short, but this one’s 58 minutes. It’s the best 58 minute YouTube video you could ever wanna see on mental health. And it’s put out by a Caterpillar webinar series. And it’s just titled Mental Health on the Job Site. It’s a webinar.

And Caterpillar puts it on, Michelle Walker, who’s a member of the CFMA and works for her family’s company, SSC Underground in North Arizona, is very active in it. And then Dr. John Pompe, a licensed clinical psychologist with Caterpillar, put this on. 

And one thing he said that really hit me was that nobody’s ever committed suicide because you asked them if they were thinking about committing suicide. Are you thinking about hurting yourself? Couple of weeks ago in local AGC meeting, Dan Fordice, the national president was here, and they were talking about it was the number one issue that they’re gonna be addressing and that they have been addressing.

And a guy stood up and he said, let me tell you something. If you see the warning signs that someone’s not right, you ask them, are you thinking about hurting yourself? Are you thinking about killing yourself? And if they are, they will say yes, or maybe not right now, but I was thinking about it. They need help now.

How to help someone who is struggling

[00:05:59] Stephen Brown: So what kind of help do you give them? How do you set that up? It makes company awareness. You take the stigma away from talking about it, and then you put procedures in place. It’s called an EAP program, Employee Assistance Program. But usually your Human Resources type people put those programs together, but it’s your health insurance providers.

What resources are available? Have you reached out to different clinical psychologists in the areas where you work, where they’re available for emergency help? There is even a assessment survey that someone that’s thinking about these things can go online and take and help tell you what direction you need to do to get help for them.

So mental health is treatable. That’s the crazy thing. And when this guy was telling us about a young fellow that everybody loved just becoming distant and killed himself, and everybody was just amazed, it just blew their mind that it happened.

[00:06:58] Rob Williams: Yeah. I don’t know if I told you guys my nephew killed himself a few years ago and he was Mr. Who’s Who, popular, everything. Big, most popular guy in his class, and it was really devastating. It’ll not only affect that person, but it affects the whole family around you, and it changes so many lives.

[00:07:18] Stephen Brown: Well, the mindset of the person with that mindset is, I’m a burden to everyone. I’m not worth it. I am nothing but a burden to my family, my friends, my coworkers. And nothing could be further from the truth, but that’s the mindset.

How do you get past the stigma of mental health?

[00:07:36] Wade Carpenter: I know you mentioned some of the warning signs, and maybe we can get into that in a minute, but you know, it’s a male-dominated profession. I’ve got some great lady contractors, so I don’t mean to, but most guys are like, we don’t want to get into all this feeling stuff. And it’s just the stigma you talk about. I mean, how do you get past that?

[00:07:56] Stephen Brown: You’ve got to change the corporate culture, Wade. It’s gotta come down from the top. We talk about it. You know, nobody talked about physical safety till they talked about it. Bring it out in the open. Mental health is not a stigma, and that culture means that nobody around there says so-and-so’s acting crazy. 

The culture is we care. We’re gonna listen, and we’re gonna help you. We care about you. Now, is that so hard to do? Maybe you don’t care and you don’t wanna do this. You’re most probably not listening, by the way. But if you do care, then you not only incorporate it, there’s toolboxes. There’s a pledge you can take. There’s a Workforce Health Day that you can ha that you can coordinate every year. That includes everything from safety to mental health, to your health plan, to anything else. But it’s all just goes out there to let everyone know this is important to all of us. 

[00:08:56] Rob Williams: I was just in a corporate culture seminar the other day, it was coaches and teaching us how to train and get that into the culture. And it has to start with you guys that are the owners. The HR can do this stuff, but it’s not gonna happen until you, the contractor, the owner, the CEO believe in it and talk about it it’s not gonna happen. Because it has not been acceptable in our culture. I just made a video the other day about we were the Marlboro men we’re tough, and we serve as martyrs and we used to brag about how miserable our lives were because we’d worked so hard.

It was a race to get out there. How many hours before sunlight did you get there to start setting up the job so you could pour it? And then did you stay till the sun was down? And these are summer months, so these are long days. And so you just work and you sleep, if not very much, or maybe you go out, that’s even harder on yourself.

But it, it’s not part of the culture to complain about the– well, that’s the description. It’s complaining rather than doing something about it and caring about it. But it does start with the corporate culture. Just like we had to do safety for so long. If the owner wasn’t bought into that, it wasn’t gonna happen. It was just a piece of paper we were required to put on the door. 

And same thing for your mission, your values, your core values, those kind of things. To put that in there, it starts with the top and it has to be demonstrated from the top. So if the top starts talking about it, then it’s gonna be a lot harder for those guys that try to shame you into not talking about it.

So if the leaders, hopefully you are the leader. And it can happen, sometimes we did have some leaders, I think one of our strongest leaders, you could tell when it got some social things, was actually a superintendent guy that we had. He had been the owner of a company, so, so you know, that can probably happen too.

So I say the owners, but it really has to happen with you leaders also. So buy that in there and then it’s a little harder for somebody to downplay that and make fun of that process or shame you into the martyr aspect. If it starts at top.

Resources to help add mental health awareness to your corporate culture

[00:11:03] Stephen Brown: Bake it in. That’s one thing I hear a lot. Bake it into your corporate culture. Just like safety.

[00:11:11] Rob Williams: Yeah. And so what does that mean to bake it in? That kind of means scheduling it. If you have certain meetings, when they say bake it in, that means make it part of your process. When you have your, I don’t know which kind of meetings you have, but maybe it’s your your weekly meetings, or quarterly meetings, or superintendent meetings. Or even possibly the job site meetings, because now you have the toolbox talks and the job site that’s required now. That didn’t really happen back in the days it had just started when I was in contracting. 

[00:11:41] Stephen Brown: Well, that Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention has toolbox talk samples. It has hardhat stickers. It has posters for your job trailers, for your office. It has cards that everybody can carry. And the whole theme is called Stand Up. Stand up for Suicide Prevention.

You can order and get all that stuff online from them. And then when you buy the materials from them, it helps support the Alliance, which is totally nonprofit. But you’re right, Rob, and you just have to talk about it. You don’t have to be an expert.

[00:12:15] Rob Williams: Yeah.

[00:12:15] Stephen Brown: People say, this is just not something I’m comfortable with. Well, you better get comfortable with it if you care about others. You just have to get comfortable with it. You talk about it.

[00:12:24] Rob Williams: I do think about that. You said care about others. And I don’t think when people are thinking about doing something like that, they’re not thinking about who all it’s gonna hurt. And having been in a family that experienced that it’s not about hurting the person that’s gone, it’s about everybody else that’s really thinking.

I don’t think that would’ve happened. Sometimes those people may not have done that if they had realized how much it was gonna hurt and rock the whole family for generations. So I think that’s part of it. Now, I guess some people get to the point where they don’t care, but–

[00:12:56] Stephen Brown: My daughter’s a psychologist. And she’s manned numerous suicide prevention hotlines. And she said, people just wanna know that you care. They just wanna know that you care. Just let them know that you care and there’s help for them. They’re not worthless and they’re not a burden.

[00:13:15] Wade Carpenter: That makes a lot of sense. But you know, I don’t really know how to figure out– I mean, I picture somebody getting quiet, but sometimes people are quiet automatically, but you know, it is, if somebody withdraws, it’s tough to really realize what’s going on with somebody. And maybe you don’t wanna approach them when stuff like that’s happening.

Look out for these possible signs that an employee is struggling with their mental health

[00:13:35] Wade Carpenter: But can you give us some idea of some of these signs that somebody may be going through?

[00:13:39] Stephen Brown: Sure. And here’s the whole thing too, Wade, the whole culture is you’re not uncomfortable talking about it because everybody does it. And say you get in someone’s business and they cuss you out. So you get cussed out. You’re like, whoa, hey, I’m just worried about you. That’s all. Nobody gets mad about that unless they’re– but these warning signs you were talking about, and I mentioned the cards that you can order for all your employees to carry in their wallets, but here they are.

Talking about feeling trapped. You’re around someone who’s talking about feeling trapped, saying they want to die. Feeling like they are a burden to others. Expressing helplessness or hopelessness. Conflict or confrontations with coworkers. Increased tardiness or absenteeism. Decreased productivity, problems with problem solving, near misses for an injury, hits or other safety incidents. Misusing drugs or alcohol. Acting anxious or agitated or reckless. Withdrawing from social groups and interactions. Extreme mood swings. Relationship issues. Major life changes: loss of a loved one, financial difficulties, and any illness or injury.

[00:14:53] Rob Williams: That’s great. You know, maybe we can probably have another episode on this and maybe even have a guest that can help us too, because I’m actually really curious now, some specific steps, what do you do when you see these signs? I don’t know that we’re prepared for that

[00:15:08] Stephen Brown: What you do is you talk to someone and the whole culture says, you notice, say you’re having a company cookout and just certain employees are just not engaging. There’s something going on. They’re not just a bad introvert, and you wanna respect their introvertedness. There may be something going on and somebody needs to talk to them: Hey, you okay? You wanna come join us? What’s going on? 

And can I help you with anything? It’s not the way to go. It’s like, come on, I want to talk to you. You sit down with them. It’s a priority. Your mental health is a priority. Rob, if you were distributing any of these signs, then I’d jump in my car. If I saw you on Zoom doing this, I’d run over to your office. And Wade, Rob and I would get on a plane and come to Atlanta. I mean, you just do what you have to do. It’s that important to not let this happen. And it’s just amazing to me how treatable all these from addictions to depression, to thoughts of suicide, how treatable they are. They’re so treatable and it’s a disease. It’s not a stigma, it’s a disease, a medical disease that can be treated.

[00:16:18] Rob Williams: This is almost humorous to this statement that I heard the other day, but you’d think people know, I, somebody pointed out when we were discussing this with the coaching atmosphere, they was like, don’t text them about it. Don’t send them an email. Talk to them in person. I know that sounds so silly to say, but this generation, and a lot of the people the communication can be on text or something and not in person. So, when you ask these questions, this is not a text message. But I guess people get divorced or get–

[00:16:49] Stephen Brown: Well, that’s a, that’s such a good point, Rob. Yesterday I was talking to my mom, she’s 88, and she was asking me, what’s going on? I was talking about one of my contractor buddies that I was talking to. She goes, well, be sure to tell him I love him. And I said, oh yeah, okay. Usually it’s give him a hug or a kiss for me, and it’s no, mom, I’m, I’m not gonna do that. But, so anyway, I was talking to him on the phone and I said my mom wanted me to tell you that she loves you. Oh, that’s nice. I love your mom. Yeah. Tell her I love her too.

And then, I said, well, I love you too. And he was like yeah, right. And I said, yeah, you know, I do now come on. And then he started laughing. He goes, yeah, well, I, you know, I do too. But I mean that was weird. But it was all because of this awareness that made me do this. The fact that we were talking about this.

[00:17:35] Rob Williams: It’s funny. That made me uncomfortable just you talking about a third party story. I got uncomfortable the other day. The theme to one of our meetings was love your–

[00:17:44] Stephen Brown: –you have to go that far.

[00:17:46] Rob Williams: Yeah. He was love your clients. And I like that made me, why does that make us squirm so much?

[00:17:52] Stephen Brown: It’s because we’re three guys talking about personal things.

[00:17:55] Rob Williams: Yeah.

[00:17:55] Stephen Brown: And there’s a lady that I work with here in the office that won’t get totally up in my business, what’s going on? What’s, hey, you got something, on your shirt. Come here. What? Why are you walking like that? That’s the culture here at McDaniel-Whitley, if you’re walking with your head down or something, what’s going on? What are you, come here, what? 

And I don’t know if it’s just a southern woman thing, but I certainly appreciate it Anyway, that culture needs to be in your company. You want to be happy, right? You want your workers to be happy. And how you define happiness is sending them home healthy to their family and focusing on mental health. Talking about the things that are creating stresses in your workforce openly. 

Now, I’m not saying do it so much that the job doesn’t get done, but have the culture in place that it’s as important to talk about. You don’t have to micromanages everybody’s mental health, but you need to say, hey, we have resources to. And this is important to us.

[00:18:55] Rob Williams: Yeah it’s funny, another side to that. One of the reasons that we go over our processes and productivity is to transform contractors’ lives and, but the workers, everything. So it also gets into the fact of, the better you run your companies, the healthier everybody can be.

The stress and the chaos of the companies that everything, that the sky’s always falling, everything’s burning. So one of the aspects of this was by having systems and processes and things in place, it actually can give you a lifestyle where you have a life outside of there. 

One of the moving things I still remember was when a guy came in my office and he was like, man, I’m just in he, this is the way he described it. He said, I just feel like an animal. I work, I go eat, I go to bed, I come back here. I don’t have a life. It’s nothing, you know, it’s all it is– it’s a really hard life. 

And these guys, the, one of the other things, having a hundred employees and seeing the payroll, the man, our whole checks were garnished pretty much by something else. So they really had a really tough lifestyle, but getting that lifestyle change as well, and that’s part of what I try to do in our practice. It’s, yes, it is the bottom line on the money, but it’s also, we wanna deliver more time for you to not have to be on the job like we did 15 hours a day where it’s not even time to sleep.

So, have something to live for. So have something to do. So the processes that you can do so these people can take off. And our lifestyle, I mean, there weren’t vacations. If you took a vacation too, that wasn’t okay. There was no time because everybody had their job and nobody knew how to step in for this guy, but we stressed that as well.

That’s a whole nother subject, but and not as important as we’re talking about looking for resources that are accessible to go help when you get in a situation. But part of my practice, the reason I’m doing it is to transform the lifestyles to make life worth living for the people.

And it’s not just a battle and it gets that. There’s a mentality a lot of times it’s okay, I finally won the battle and we’re just waiting for it to end someday. And that’s not the way we should be living and that’s not the way we should strive. It’s not striving to make ourselves martyrs. It should be striving to make ourselves an example of living a full life. 

[00:21:12] Stephen Brown: No, you’re exactly right. It’s everything we do, it’s while we form the Contractor Success Forum. Part of success is managing your business so it doesn’t manage you. And we go into that in each and every episode. But also part of success is contributing the world and to each other. So.

[00:21:30] Rob Williams: I do wanna make sure we stress again, where Stephen, you can tell him maybe where some of the resources are. We’ll put it in the show notes if we don’t have it in there for links and go to our website.

[00:21:39] Stephen Brown: Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention website.

[00:21:44] Rob Williams: Alright.

[00:21:44] Stephen Brown: It’s phenomenal. It’s phenomenal.

[00:21:47] Rob Williams: Is that part of the ABC or is it?

[00:21:49] Stephen Brown: No, it’s part of CFMA sponsored it. It’s a nonprofit organization.

[00:21:54] Rob Williams: Great.

[00:21:54] Stephen Brown: So when you order posters, cards, stickers from them it helps support them as well. So, what a great group. And again that YouTube video is called Mental Health on the Job Site. It’s a webinar put out by Caterpillar webinar series. It’s absolutely fantastic.

[00:22:14] Rob Williams: All right, well, we’ll see what we can do about making it part of our culture. And I’m catching myself really low energy. It’s kinda hard to be a high energy maker show when we’re–

[00:22:22] Stephen Brown: No, that’s okay. But I was worried about Wade. You’re quiet over there. You okay, man?

[00:22:26] Wade Carpenter: Doing fine. Just tax season.

[00:22:28] Stephen Brown: You would tell us if you weren’t or we would get involved if we noticed that something was wrong with you.

[00:22:35] Wade Carpenter: Well I appreciate that, but you didn’t tell me you love me, so.

[00:22:39] Stephen Brown: I do love you, Wade. I love you, Rob.

[00:22:41] Rob Williams: Love you Stephen.

[00:22:43] Stephen Brown: It’s beautiful. See how far we’ve come in just one podcast?

[00:22:46] Rob Williams: Are we with that?

[00:22:47] Wade Carpenter: Yeah.

[00:22:48] Stephen Brown: Well see? Thank you guys.

[00:22:50] Wade Carpenter: Appreciate you bringing the topic up, Stephen.

[00:22:53] Rob Williams: Yeah, this has been a great episode of the Contractor Success Forum because not only are we here to make your business more profitable, make it have more meaning and transform our contractors’ lives and the culture that we’re talking about so we can be not only real busy, that we can be the best profession of anything in the world.

And so, come back and see us, and we have Wade Carpenter and Stephen Brown and Rob Williams on the Contractor Success Forum.

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