Mental health is a topic that is rarely discussed as part of on- the-job training, yet according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, “in any given week, approximately 500,000 Canadian workers will not go to work due to mental health issues.” Working in isolation and often unsteady employment, were some of the key contributing factors leading to these issues. Given the fact that symptoms are more difficult to detect, self-awareness and understanding play key roles in recognizing the signs. It is important to address mental health issues, like stress, as quickly as possible in order to try and maintain a safe and healthy workplace for both employees and employers alike.
Unfortunately, isolated work environments can often be the reality for trade workers, in addition to potentially also dealing with seasonal work environments due to weather or industry trends. At this time of year, slower work periods are
more prominent due to the winter months as is the occurrence of Seasonal Affective Disorder (a type of depression that is related to a lack of sunlight during the winter months) which is why it is especially important to check in on staff and coworkers to ensure that their physical and mental wellbeing are on track.
Most physical symptoms can be easily detected when one falls ill, however mental health triggers may not be as easily recognizable. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, “in any given week, approximately 500,000 Canadian workers will not go to work due to mental health issues.”
Stress is all too common and is a great contributor to mental health issues. As outlined by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario in their 2006 Basic Certification Training Program: Participant’s Manual, stress can lead one to lose sleep, over-medicate or drink excessively, and/or feel depressed, anxious, or reckless. When individuals engage in such behaviors, they are more likely to make errors in judgment, increase the potential for physical strains and sprains, and become momentarily distracted.
It is important to address mental health issues, like stress, as quickly as possible. Luckily, there are programs and practices in place that can be used to help individuals. For starters, one can do a variety of simple but effective practices to help reduce one’s stress levels, like the ones suggested by the Can- adian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS): take several deep breaths throughout the day; have regular stretch breaks; and organize and prioritize your day.
Employers can also play a role in reducing stress. Accord- ing to CCOHS, it is important for employers to control a stressful factor at its source. For example, if stress is being caused by a physical agent, such as loud noise or a painful workstation, then they recommend the employer take action to reduce the noise or redesign the workstations. Another important component in reducing stress for employees is job design. As out- lined on CCOHS’s website, “good job design accommodates an employee’s mental and physical abilities.” According to CCOHS, positive job design in the workplace includes: a job that is reasonably demanding and that provides the employee with a variety of job tasks; opportunities for the employee to learn on the job as well as throughout their career; an area of decision-making that the employee can call his or her own;
a degree of social support as well as recognition in the work- place; and the feeling that the job leads to a desirable future.
Aside from creating positive job design and reducing physic- al stressful agents from the workplace, CCOHS highlights that it is important for employers to curb stress on a day-to-day basis by doing things such as, treating all employees with fairness and respect, providing support, being clear about job expectations, and designing jobs with a balanced workload.
A balanced workload is also an important contributing factor for an effective work/life balance. According to Health Canada, “balance is one of the identified psychosocial risk fac- tors that can impact an individual’s mental health.” While an occasional stressful workday is something that can be man- aged, it is the continuous stressful days that can wreak havoc on an individual’s wellbeing. Statistics Canada reported that, employees who felt that most of their days were extremely stressful, were over three times more likely to suffer a major depressive episode, compared to those who reported low levels of general stress.
As CCOHS outlines on their website, the two main causes of a disruption in work/life balance are the following: “lack of time and scheduling conflicts,” as well as, “ feeling overwhelmed, overloaded or stressed by the pressures of multiple roles.”
Thankfully, there are several strategies that one can implement to ensure a positive work/life balance in their lives. While at work, the Canadian Mental Health Association suggests doing things such as: scheduling breaks for oneself through- out the day; setting realistic goals for what can be achieved in a given time frame; and turning off electronic communication after a set time so as to not be available 24/7 for work. Some strategies they endorse for home are: creating a “buffer” between work and home, which means, doing an activity one enjoys after work, before beginning the evening routine; prioritizing household chores; and exercising. Furthermore, one can consider speak- ing to their employer about adopting flexible work hours or completing a graduated return (gradually building up to a full-time schedule after a leave).
For those working in seasonal trades, maintaining a healthy body weight and regular physical activity is equally important. “Eating a balanced diet and staying hydrated is increasingly important for trade workers who have extended periods of down-time” says Julia Wright, Nutrition & Exercise Expert and Head Coach at FF Well- ness. “Individuals whose occupations have an off-season are going from a highly-active level of activity, to a very sedentary level and the body may compensate for this by storing this excess energy, if dietary patterns stay constant.” To counter- act the negative effects of this change in activity level on the body, Julia suggests incorporating regular physical activity into each day to keep joints and muscles healthy and pliable over the winter season, and to maintain a healthy body-weight. During physical activity your body releases “ feel-good” endorphins that boost your sense of well-being, and can also suppress hormones that contribute to stress and anxiety.
Work/life balance doesn’t just bene- fit the employees, but the company overall as well. For example, CCOHS points out that work/life balance programs improved company morale, helped to retain staff and even attracted new employees. Most importantly, they have helped to decrease stress and burn-out, while increasing lev- els of production and satisfaction. This positivity is of utmost importance, especially in an industry, like construction, where sobering statistics have shown that too many are suffering and losing their lives to issues with mental health and wellbeing.