There’s a serious challenge facing the residential-construction trade – and it’s not related to labor shortages, supply-chain snafus, interest rates and other industry headwinds.
The challenge, instead, is tied to the mountain of evidence suggesting that American workers are experiencing a significant and deepening mental-health crisis, a likely offshoot of societal disruptions like the COVID-19 pandemic and other stressors specific to our times.
Indeed, according to current estimates, roughly one in five U.S. adults has recently been subject to some form of mental-health care, a sharp increase in the past 20 years. A similar number report that they’ve been plagued in the past 12 months by suicidal thoughts. At the same time, prescription drug abuse has been now classified as an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and nearly one-third of surveyed adults say they experience symptoms of either anxiety or depression, three times as many as in 2019.
It would be naïve – or, worse yet, misguided – to assume that the kitchen and bath industry is immune to those alarming trends. To the contrary, mental-health challenges, while often unaddressed, adversely affect productivity, profitability and morale at companies in every industry sector from design and retail to distribution and manufacturing.
The impact of mental-health issues in today’s construction workplace is the focus of an enlightened new pilot program that points to a pressing need for robust, broad-based efforts aimed at both identifying the problem and reducing the stigma tied to mental health.
The two-year “Blueprint for Worker Well-Being Pilot Program,” the product of a partnership between the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the North Carolina Home Builders Association, provides a wealth of information focused on raising awareness of mental-health issues, while serving as a model resource for employers of all sizes and specialties.
Among the elements of a comprehensive approach to addressing mental-health issues the program recommends are the following:
- Identify and reduce internal corporate factors that result in trauma, stress and life disruption for employees, management, subcontractors and others.
- Offer a tiered approach to training that builds employee skills and confidence, and addresses issues such as stress management, communication and conflict resolution.
- Offer both peer and outside support that normalizes help-seeking, including open and honest personal storytelling about mental-health struggles and/or substance abuse.
- Offer a benefits suite that addresses the diverse needs of today’s multi-generational workforce – a melting pot of Gen X, Y and Z, along with baby boomers and traditionalists.
- Create an organizational framework that promotes the fair treatment of all employees, particularly those who’ve historically been underrepresented or subject to discrimination based on identity or disability.
- Utilize health and safety messaging that links employees to mental-health and crisis resources, and motivates people to change problematic behaviors, lifestyles or relationships.
- Follow crisis-management protocols in the aftermath of a mental-health crisis.
What’s needed, in short, is nothing less than a cultural shift that focuses on employee wellbeing, and allows those who are struggling to access the mental-health resources they need without fear of ruining their livelihoods.
The development of successful mental-health initiatives will doubtless require a commitment from corporate leaders. Industry-related organizations like the National Kitchen & Bath Association and the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association, as well as state and local trade associations, can also play a role by providing information and resources to their members.
It can be difficult to overcome both the stigma and the lack of insight tied to mental-health issues. But in the current era of heightened stress, it’s nothing short of a business imperative. It’s time to create open, supportive workplaces that reduce the stigma surrounding mental- health issues and keep employees healthy and safe. ▪