More than three in ten workers within the Australian construction industry do not believe their workplaces are mentally healthy according to a new survey which examines the cost of mentally unhealthy workplaces upon employers and typical worker responses to such environments.

Conducted by public health advocacy outfit Beyond Blue, the survey of 1,126 participants including 85 senior managers and 1,041 employees found that while more than eight in 10 workers within the construction sector considered their workplaces to be physically safe, as many as 37 per cent did not feel their current workplace was mentally healthy even though more than nine in 10 said mentally healthy workplaces were important.

The survey also found that workers in ‘mentally unhealthy’ workplaces were more than three times more likely to take time off work compared with their peers in ‘healthy’ workplaces and that employees in such workplaces were more likely to observe depression in their colleagues.

Moreover, the ‘stigma’ attached to mental health issues in the workplace remains. Almost half of those surveyed within ‘unhealthy’ workplaces (46 per cent) and more than a third of those surveyed within ‘healthy’ workplaces say they would not want others in their workplace to know if they were experiencing depression or anxiety.

However, the construction sector actually compared relatively well to other sectors surveyed, where only 52 per cent of workers overall said their current place of employment was mentally healthy.

construction workers mental health

The latest research comes as Beyond Blue and the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance are promoting a new campaign to raise awareness about mental health issues in Australian workplaces, the centrepoint of which revolves around a new interactive guide which the organisations say allow businesses to create mental health plans which are tailored to the needs of individual workplaces.

Beyond Blue chairman Jeff Kennett said good mental health in workplaces was vital for community well-being.

He said more than 2,500 Australians take their own lives each year, and that the amount of time staff spent at their workplaces meant employers had a moral obligation to support their workers.

“This research confirms that employers can reduce absenteeism by improving mental health in the workplace but many of them don’t understand the value of good mental health at work,” Kennett said. “We’ve commissioned the research and now it’s our responsibility to inform the community about the findings and get everyone to lift their game.”

Leaders in the construction sector have welcomed the new initiative.

Grocon executive chairman Daniel Grollo says the program will fill a gap in providing strategies and guidance for business leaders to tackle important issues at their workplace, and committed to take a personal lead to ensure effective strategies were in place at Grocon.

“Mental health in the workplace is a serious issue that needs to have greater emphasis placed upon it,” Grollo said. “It’s a sensitive subject and one that has traditionally been off-limits in organisations but that time has long past and things need to change.”

The new campaign is being funded by the Federal Department of Health.

construction workers mental health

Key facts:

  • 63 per cent of construction workers say their workplace is mentally healthy against 52 per cent of workers across all industries.
  • Almost half of all workers in mentally unhealthy workplaces have taken time off because they felt stressed, anxious or depressed, against 13 per cent for workers in healthy workplaces.
  • Three quarters of workers believe workplaces should support those experiencing depression or anxiety.
  • 81 per cent of organisational leaders say their workplace has procedures in place to support mental health but as many as 35 per cent of workers say they either don’t know these resources exist or are unable to access them.