Attracting and retaining the best staff is always high up on the agenda item within Queensland construction companies.

This topic comes up on a daily basis as I speak to hundreds of clients in Tier 1, 2 and 3 construction companies, candidates and other strategic industry partners and representatives.

Many clients want to know what true points of differences they can offer over their competitors to attract and retain the best staff in the industry.

And on the flipside, candidates ask what they look for from their next employer vs their current situation.

One common theme which continually comes up is around mental health in the construction industry and what is being done to address this issue.

Mates in Construction (MIC) CEO Jorgen Gullestrup said the construction industry experiences around 190 suicides a year. That’s 30 per cent more than any other industry.

That means construction workers are six times more likely to die from suicide than an accident at work. But since MIC began in 2007 in Queensland, the rate has dropped by eight per cent.

While they are clear they can’t take full credit for this, anyone within the industry can see there is a strong correlation between the program starting and getting people talking and the number of suicides and attempted suicides dropping.

So what does this mean for your company? Or the construction industry as a whole?

The construction industry isn’t straightforward, as many different companies are involved in specific individual projects. Each part gets contracted out again and again as the work packages get divvied up to each particular specialist.

You can work for a company, but be out on site, away from the head office and the company’s employees.

How do you as an employer look after the staff you barely ever see? How often do you get to speak to, see, or socialise with people from your company?

If you work on the same site as them, or the same part of the office, then you’ll get that opportunity, but otherwise you could work somewhere for 20 years and rarely see or speak to some people within your place of employment. That’s not a normal situation in other industries.

And how do you as an employee voice an opinion and ensure you are heard?

There isn’t a simple answer from an overall perspective, said Grant Galvin, CEO of the Master Builders Association.

“The construction industry is one of the largest industries in terms of employment in the state. It covers a diverse range of sectors ranging from large scale high rise projects all the way through to individual operators who do repair work on properties for mums and dads,” he said. “The vast majority of the industry is made up of small to medium sized businesses. Therefore the dispersed nature of the industry can mean it is difficult for employers to assist in managing mental health and ultimately suicide prevention.

“Anything the industry can do to improve its ability for employees to talk to each other and offer support if required will help improve mental health outcomes. That is the reason that Master Builders was a pillar partner which help to set up Mates in Construction. Mates helping mates is a proven way of improving mental health outcomes and preventing suicide. What we need to do better is to get the MIC program more involved in the residential parts of our industry which makes up the large majority of the workers from the industry.”

Companies like Woollam Constructions and Watpac have Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) in place for their staff to access, should they have any need or want, to talk to a professional about work, money, family, friends, health and other concerns.

It’s a start, and both companies acknowledge as something that needs to come more to the forefront of company improvement initiatives.

A number of mid-tier companies credit their longevity of employment (upwards of a 12 and 20-year averages) to having a mixture of more experienced workers mentoring and working closely with younger, fresher employees to show them the ropes and lend them support professionally and personally.

Other company initiatives like boot camps, end of trip facilities and flexible working hours also contribute to the happiness of their employees. These companies have a family focus and believe in give and take.

They don’t work their staff every Saturday; they rotate the undesirable days as much as possible and hold a realistic view of family and personal commitments outside of work.

You could call it work life balance, or you could call it mental health checks.

Despite all of this, mental health is still often considered taboo within the industry.

Whether they’re looking for work, either because they’re out of work or unhappy in their current place of employment, the common theme is that people are at breaking point from being overworked, underappreciated, with little support and a desire to be happy.

Rarely are they looking to leave because of wage. Many tell me they want to leave because of the six-day working week – 70-hour weeks for $120,000 to  $140,000 a year.

While the pay sounds great, when you break it down over the hours worked, it works out to be about $35 an hour for a highly skilled experienced employee who barely sees their family and friends.

A couple of years ago, offering an additional $20,000 to a potential employee would do the trick. But more and more, employees have realised the age old ‘money doesn’t buy happiness’ rings true.

They would trade some of that wage for a Saturday off, a social touch team, Friday afternoon drinks with the people they work with and the ability to spend time with loved ones.

There are many ways a company can add value to the lives – at work and outside – of their employees, other than just monetary incentives.

To attract and retain the best talent and to combat the suicide rates in the construction industry, the non-monetary ‘value adds’ are the incentives that will see you hiring less, and hopefully saving a life.