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Built for Growth Episode 3: Mental Health in Construction

Posted November 3rd, 2020

The construction industry has the 2nd highest rate of suicide in the U.S. Globally, the numbers aren’t much better. Construction is a tough job when it comes to mental health, for a lot of reasons: time spent away from family, seasonal wage fluctuations, physical injuries, substance abuse, and a “suck it up” culture that can silence any cries for help.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

In this special episode of Built for Growth, Randy Thompson from LivingWorks joins us to share a message of hope for the entire industry. To shift the culture of the industry, all it takes is business owners and leaders (like YOU!) to start talking about the importance of mental health and suicide prevention.

Full Transcript Below

Scott Peper  0:32

Hello, everybody. Thank you for joining us today, I’m really excited about our guests, a special guest, Randy Thompson from LivingWorks. He is the Vice President and business development leader, he is going to spend some time with us today talking about the impacts of mental health awareness, what organizations can do you as individual leaders and how you can help your organization’s and the people that are not only important and close to you personally, but also your team and your friends at work and colleagues. Randy, welcome. And thank you very much for joining us, I really appreciate you taking the time to do so.

Randy Thompson  1:07

God, it’s my pleasure. Anytime we can talk about mental health and suicide prevention, I’m quite eager to participate. So it is my pleasure to be here. My role here with LivingWorks. For those of you who might not know the organization is we are a suicide prevention training company, been in the suicide prevention business for over 37 years, have developed workshops that are globally delivered. So across the world, to help people keep people safe from suicide.

My background is in mental health actually, as a social worker. I’ve worked mostly primarily with organizations around mental health support, so building mental health and wellness programs for organizations. So it’s it’s a topic that’s very near and dear to me, I have shifted over into suicide prevention, as I always felt there was a bit of a gap there when it came to mental health support most organizations and out there, and I think we should really focus on prevention and early intervention. But there’s a piece around suicide prevention that I think needs to be a part of that regular stream of support within organizations. And we focus, of course, on one industry in particular. And that is a construction industry, which we know well Scott has been impacted by suicide more than any other. So happy to talk about that today and the impact of suicide. And I think what organizations can do to kind of shift the culture a little bit around making mental health and suicide prevention, okay to talk about, and know that these, these cultures haven’t been built in a day. And it’s going to take some time to shift it. But as we look at some of the statistics, I think we have a need, and we certainly there is a need out there for us to take a stand. So I’m just excited to be here with you today and have this conversation, then hopefully we’re able to help some folks.

Scott Peper  3:07

I think we will in fact, I know we will. Really one of the things I wanted to talk a little bit about first or hoping you could touch on is how did this become such a topic of passion for you, you’re very well written, you speak all over about this, you’re brought in expert leader and you can tell that it’s a lot more to you than just your job.

Randy Thompson  3:29

Yeah, absolutely. And speaking of mental health, been in the business industry for over 30 years, and I’ve always just had whatever reason to need to help. I used to think it was because I was really poor at math. So I should probably get into the people helping business, but also realize that it is a passion of mine. And suicide in particular is important to me, I lost a brother in a very close friend of mine to suicide A number of years ago. And that really impacted me in a very significant way. Very personal way. In not in a way where I felt like, you know, I probably should have saved him when we can talk a little bit about, you know, how folks who have lived with suicide can manage themselves, but just more around, there’s got to be something we can do about this because suicide is not as rare as people think. And when I started looking into this statistics around suicide, what I realized there is a whole there’s a significant need there for support and I couldn’t find it anywhere I spent my education and social work and very little time did we spend around suicide prevention. So even those who you think are trained in helping people with suicide and dealing with their suicidal ideation and suicidal activities are not necessarily trained to deal specifically with that issue. So that became an issue for me and and LivingWorks just came calling one day. Well, I was I was working with Family Services at the time. And in the employee assistance program. And, and this opportunity came my way I wasn’t looking for it. But it was certainly one that I felt deserve some time. And after we had a number of discussions, I felt like this was the right path for me at this point in my career. And I felt like I could do something about it that I could maybe move the needle a little, because where there is passion, there’s action. And that’s really what drove me into suicide prevention. And I’ve been here now for almost two years. And I’m seeing I’m seeing progress. And I’m seeing opportunities here to help folks and make a difference. And it starts small. And and it builds out into into your communities. And we can talk a little bit Scott about what that could look like.

Scott Peper  5:55

So diving straight into construction, as you know, our audience is a big construction audience, we focus a lot on construction as well. We try continuously to provide value in any possible way we can to the construction leadership teams, our clients, people we know people, we don’t know, anyone out there. And because construction and you mentioned is the number one industry that is prone or more prone to suicide. Can you touch on why that is? And what are some things I’m hoping we can pull from this are some things that are really, leaders in this industry not only can do for themselves, cuz I’m sure some of the leadership is the people that are actually having some of these problems, but also noticing that amongst their teams to help create an environment that’s safe for them to speak up when they’re there.

Randy Thompson  6:41

Absolutely. Yeah. And there are a number of reasons why the construction industry have the numbers that they do. And I certainly look at statistics, and look to read. And I think the latest report is constructions identified as number two, the number two industry but the number one industry is mining and extraction. And we’re, as far as I’m concerned, to me, those are two such similar industries that we can’t ignore the fact that they’re so related, and to me, both need the attention around suicide prevention. So I kind of I kind of cluster that mining and extraction in with construction, very similar industries. When you look at the, the the complexity of those industries, you can understand why there’s they’re at risk for suicide. They have challenging job types, within that industry, anywhere from general labor, then to skilled tradesmen, you’ve got management, you’ve got such a wide variety of different types. And there’s over 11 and a half million construction workers in the US alone. So the numbers itself are quite large. When you think about the working conditions that a typical construction worker has to work with, you can find that challenging as well, just from a weather perspective, when you look at injuries, and chronic back pain, and that type of thing within that industry is quite prevalent. And often when you can’t work, you don’t get paid. So you’re looking at financial issues that are that can be that can drive mental health within that industry. Seasonal and temporary work is very common in the construction industry. So you don’t know from one project to the next if you’re actually going to be able to work and bring you know, bring home the finances. There’s a lot of cases of isolation where fathers are away from their families for a period of time away from their support network. So really reliant on the folks that they actually work with once to complete that project so that separation from family can cause issues. And despite the fact that we hear from other sectors, when it comes to the construction industry, mental health cases are the least reported reason for people to be off. So these folks, these workers are coming in saying that they’re either not feeling well, or they have back pain, or they have other physical conditions. They’re not actually relaying the fact that they’re having mental health problems for fear of bullying, for fear of perhaps losing their job from some type of retribution, that they can be easily replaced. So even though they’re reporting absences, they’re not reporting the right ones. They’re reporting other issues that they might be dealing with. But really, at the end of the day, the focus should be on their mental health. So we’re not they’re not always getting the right help they need. So there’s a huge number of factors that can impact an individual’s mental health, particularly in the construction industry, that can drive to suicidal ideation and suicidal activity. Because for whatever reason, they just can’t get past the issues that they’re trying to cope with.

Scott Peper  9:56

So interesting. You bring those points up, you know, I want this to be very actionable for the leaders that are listening to this. So sure, if we’re speaking directly to the construction leadership team or owners of the business, and they get nothing else from this video, what is one thing they can do to help make this better? Doesn’t have to solve the problem. We don’t have to think too often. In any problem. We all try to go A to Z too fast. But they just make one step, you know?

Randy Thompson  10:25

Yes, absolutely. And it’s not an easy one. And there’s many organizations that often just refute the fact that they may have mental health issues, drug and alcohol issues within the organization. There’s a number of reasons for that. But when you think about it, I always tell organizations these because they come in and say, Well, what can we do? Right? Like you’ve got all these wellness programs and EAP s, and there’s so much out there? Where do I start is often the question I get, and I always tell them start small. You know, this culture that has been built for so long, didn’t happen overnight. And it’s really a culture shift.

And most organizations are doing something, whether it’s in the EAP, or most organizations are trying something to help their employees, but really focused on the right things. So before you decide to get into any type of wellness programs, really think about what are you trying to achieve? Like? What do you want to accomplish? Do you want to build a culture of mental health? Do you want to build a culture of wellness within the organization? What are some of the objectives that you want to achieve? before you even start? best thing you can do is build is like building a committee to get that thing going, right? Build an action plan around some of the objectives that you’ve talked about, and put a committee together to start investigating one, what you’re already doing to what’s working and what isn’t. Three, do a needs assessment around it. solicit your staff, your employees, ask them what’s working, what isn’t? What do they need, but study recent studies, when they asked about you know, if you got anything right up to raises more money, vacation time, what’s the one thing that you would look for in your employer, and for the most part, like I don’t have the numbers in front of me, SCOTUS, about 70% of those that were surveyed said, mental health support in the organization, I want my employer to be able to provide support for me and my family, so I can be safe focused at work. It wasn’t about more money, more paid more vacation time, it was about taking care of me and my family.

Scott Peper  12:34

You know, I watched I have watched a podcast of someone I watch off and they had a guest on and I can’t recall the guests name offhand. We know that a similar question was asked, and the response was, and I’m curious to get your opinion on this, if there was one thing they could do, it would be to hold a meeting with your entire team, bring everybody together. And just tell them all that this is a safe place for mental health, to talk about that.

Any problems you may have, you can always come into the door and talk about it. But they said, you know, just having that one meeting with everyone. And tell everybody you know what mental health is important to me, as your leader, I have had issues where I’m not as happy as I could be, or I’m not before. And I need you all to know that if you ever do feel that way, you can always come talk to me, there’s no judgement at all. It’s not going to be a place that we’re ever going to tolerate type that type of judgment. No one’s brought the issue up, but it’s here. And I want you guys to know. And they said that you can fully expect Not a single word to be mentioned that meaning and no one to say anything, and that’s okay. But the fact that you had that meaning and you offered up anybody to talk and they know will make a huge impact. And I’m just curious if you would agree with that, or anything you would add?

Randy Thompson  13:52

Absolutely. One of the first steps in talking about shifting that culture. And that’s probably why you don’t get much feedback from a comment like that, because kind of catches people off guard. But but the number one, number one, I think the key to a successful wellness program or successful culture shift is really getting that buy in from the top. That they have to hear from leadership that this is important to us. Your mental health is just as important to us as your physical health. You do a lot of training with you know, protective equipment in gear to keep you physically healthy. We are now focused on your mental health. And it’s important to us and from here on in, expect to hear a lot more from us. We’re going to look to engage you in this process. It’s not going to be us telling you what to do. We want you to be a part of it. It’s super important to have your input. And we can build a small committee around this and agree on some objectives and then come up with some recommendations on what do we need to do to make this environment safe for you to talk about mental health safety to talk about suicide prevention, but more importantly, that we have the right resources available to you. And a way that you can access it in a confidential manner in a way that doesn’t put your position or your role at risk, and one that will help you get back to full productivity. And that Scott is such a critical component and a great way to start off that kind of culture shift.

And then as you work together, as that committee does work together, really look at what are the driving issues within your organization? What mental are their mental health issues specifically, that drives that organization? Take a look at your drug costs. Take a look at your HR systems in terms of absence data. Take a look at what you’re seeing. Are your managers trained at identifying someone who might need help? And what are they looking for? There are many ways that you can build around that to start creating before you even start creating programs is really creating what is the need here? And are we engaging the right people in this process to help build these programs. And I’m not talking about a full I mean, you got some organization talking about their wellness program. That didn’t happen overnight. They started with something small. They started with like a nutrition program, because they’re looking at drug data and their cholesterol was through the roof. So they started small, and that to me is the right thing to do. And they just kept building on and they kept and they kept reviewing is this program working? Is it successful? Right, they keep going back to that review. And if it is, and it’s the right thing to do. And let’s build on that because we’ve we’ve had some success. So there is a structure and a strategy to it. But I always tell organizations doesn’t have to be difficult. Start small, engage your people identify what your risk factors are, it’s not hard data is there for you get the right people to work on it, you’ve got HR systems, if you do, if not, you, there’s HR support available out there as well. But you’ve got most of the data to help you get started. So start small, bring in some people you know, who’ve got the experience to help kind of get you going. But eventually you will own it, because you need to. And then you’ll be able to kind of build on that as you go. And before you know it, you have a much more engaged workforce, mental health and suicide prevention will not be such a taboo, there won’t be such stigma attached to it, people will be talking about it freely at the phone, like they talked about Sunday’s football game. And that’s really what you want to build is that type of safety, that type of culture.

Scott Peper  17:30

You say safety, and you mentioned so many times, it really should be part of a safety program that’s already probably in place. Why not, in safety is so key on a job site on a worksite, to your insurance to your people, to your team, to their family. Maybe incorporating that into your safety program, is probably a great way to do it. And I guess I’m talking directly to our audience right now. Make it part of your safety program. And then it doesn’t have to be as in your face, or new, so to speak. It’s just part of a program that’s already there. I would strongly recommend having that meaning, based on what Randy just said, what I heard before, I think just a hearing from the top that it’s okay, and it’s a topic that’s on your mind is going to have a lot bigger impact than than one might think.

Randy Thompson  18:20

Oh, absolutely, you’d be amazed. And it’s just it’s it’s like, we’re now on notice that this is okay. And that. And they it’s exciting to hear something like that right. And, and something that they’re going to participate in and engage in, they’re going to be a part of it. And you can do that where there’s joint committees as well, where there’s a union, where there’s unions involved, I’m a big fan of of bringing in joint committees and having them work together. And there’s talk about mental health and suicide prevention. What a great cause for both those organizations, both those departments to work together. So there’s great there’s great opportunity there.

We’re actually working with some of the larger construction organizations and I met I didn’t mention earlier I’m I’m a proud Board of Trustee member with the Construction Industry Alliance for suicide prevention. And LivingWorks we just developed kind of a one-hour lunch and learn we call it as an it’s kind of like an introduction to suicide prevention, for building awareness around suicide prevention. So it’s kind of at that beginning phase for organizations who really have very little and and the message is, let’s look at embedding this as part of your onboarding process. Let’s make this a part of the person’s first or second day as much as you as you onboard around health and safety introductions. Let’s make suicide prevention and mental health part of that, that onboarding process so that that new employee gets the sense right off the bat that you know what mental health is important to this organization, just as it is, is our physical health. So we’re trying to push the needle a little bit in that direction and make it you know, make it right at the very forefront of a person’s career or within that organization. So that so that it just becomes part of their culture.

Scott Peper  20:13

What is a program, a good program or even a startup cost? Is there? Is there a cost to it? Is it really part of what cost structure is already there? It’s just creating awareness and around it?

Randy Thompson  20:25

Well, that’s a great question. And often that’s what prevents businesses from actually jumping into the site because they feel like, I don’t understand the cost. Is there a cost? Where do I start, there’s a lot of things organizations can do at no cost. And it’s just around the messaging that you can have around your sites around mental health.

There’s organizations like say,  where there’s resources available, your employee assistance program comes at a cost, which is quite minimal, when you look into it. So it, there is a certain cost to most programs. But what’s important, Scott is what is the return on investment you should expect in those programs. When you look at a health and wellness program, looking at a smoking cessation program, etc, 97% of organizations today have any EAP, and within many of those EAPS are these types of programs. And folks that are that have the background and expertise to help them develop these types of structured programs, so that the cost can be quite minimal. But it is a targeted program that should have an ROI attached to it. And at the end of the day, these are issues that are driving costs within the organization already. So take a look at that in terms of what is this? What does this issue actually costing us? And then what can we do to mitigate it, so that at the end of the day, we’re not only achieving of return on investment, are actually engaging our staff, our employees, and they’re seeing us as an organization that cares about them. So there are varying degrees of cost Scott, I’m not gonna lie. But that doesn’t have to cost anything to start shifting culture. It’s just in the messaging. It’s just an how you might be training your staff and your, your managers and supervisors. And being able to identify, some of them might need help, and just having a conversation. So they start small, you don’t have to get into these huge programs start small and build from there.

Scott Peper  22:29

So one of the things I I’ve heard from others is, you know, my company is not that big, yet, I don’t need a wellness program, or I only have, you know, three people in the office and two of them are in and out. What is the right size organization is one too small is one too large to have a wellness program and talk about mental health.

Randy Thompson  22:49

Yeah, it’s a you’re never too small, to be honest. And then that’s very real. I’ve worked with organizations with 10 employees, what I always think about is, the smaller you are, the bigger the impact is going to be. Because in most cases, farther, organizations don’t have the resources available to them to be able to support someone in need. And that person while not being treated, their their loss of productivity is hugely impacting the organization. So often, in many cases, it’s more important for them to have the support and resources that that are available to their staff, that they can help resolve them and get them back to work and get them back to being productive. large organizations can withstand a bit more because of their size and because of their resources. But to me, I always near and dear to my heart is that that National Small Business division, because they’re the ones that are that are mostly impacted by mental health. And they’re the ones that need the support the most. So I would say that it’s just as just as important for smaller organizations to think about mental health as it is for large ones.

Scott Peper  24:00

I personally think even if you were in a very, very large organization, your best method for being able to really communicate this and make an impact is to break it into small groups anyway. So if you are a small business, doing it earlier, and often is even better, because then you’re going to create that culture that as you grow and scale and organize your business, it’s going to be part of the normal internal guidance that new employees, new team members, new leaders come into the organization with and can notice and accept and feel right away. So I think I would agree with you. I think the smaller the better. And if you’re too big, if you’re already big, I think you need to figure out how to make it small, have one big conversation but figure out how to get into small groups as fast as possible.

Randy Thompson  24:46

100% I’m a big fan of pilot projects in a very structured manner. And large organizations. If you’re going to throw this program out to everyone, it becomes so unwieldy. Tough to manage tough to monitor. You’re absolutely right together. Start small small focus group, test it out, reevaluate, see what’s working, see what isn’t make the changes you need in those small groups. And then once you’ve got it right, then it’s time to kind of scale it out to other other departments, again, keeping it small, just kind of building from there, and start off with everyone, all on the same page. It’s tough to manage. So two great points. And one that I often recommend to organizations start small, doesn’t have to be daunting, right? You know, just to talk yourself out of it.

Scott Peper  25:34

So where can someone watching this, go get some information, access to information, free information, ways to educate themselves learn? Is there a book you recommend? Is there a website they can go to? Obviously, your organization is key is is there? What’s part of what’s on your website? Is there others? Where did they go, I want this to be an again, an actionable part of this series that we’re doing is I really want people to be able to watch it be moved, but know where to go next

Randy Thompson  26:00

Absolutely. And there, there are a number of resources available, both online and through text, believe it or not, often recommend organizations, particularly around mental health, I know I talked a bit about please systems programs. And that is kind of my background. But I believe that many of them are underutilized. And they often know more about the organization than then than anyone else, particularly around mental health. So I would definitely want to leverage your EAP a lot more. When it comes to suicide prevention. Of course, the CISSP is a great resource for any any construction company, particularly within the US. And you can access support through CHP through their website, which is prevent construction So that’s the cisp website, there is a challenge out there to all construction industries stand up. Or we’re asking construction companies to take a pledge to stand up to suicide prevention. And there is actually free training, or training that are available at a rebate through the CIASP for these construction organizations. So that makes it affordable for everyone. And it’s just like I talked about earlier about creating awareness, there’s a 90 minute online training called start that we developed at living works and launched about a year ago, where people can learn, you know how to support someone who might be in need of some suicide prevention, support, how to identify someone who may be in need, and be able to approach them have a conversation, and be able to link them to someone who might have a little deeper awareness, a little deeper expertise in suicide prevention. But it’s a great place to start, right? Because we’re all built and everything we do is built for helpers. So this is an opportunity if you want to be a helper to actually access that type of support. Our own website, of course, has a number of resources available for folks who want to be a helper. Mate’s Construction is a very famous, very well developed organization out of the out of Australia, where they developed a program where the employees themselves own it, essentially, they run it, they manage it. mates provides the resources that are necessary in the training that are necessary for these individuals. But Mates Construction is really a kind of self-owned suicide prevention program that’s showing great success. You can find them at And again, just lots of research and data available for folks that are looking for. As we near November. We also are nearing Movember, which is a site that’s geared more towards men, and getting support for mental health for men. So that’s coming up in a few weeks, and we’re excited to be working with Movember as well as part of their suicide prevention initiatives. So is another resource for men where 93% of this of the construction industry is male dominated. So I think that’s a good one. Then there’s national support. So the Suicide Prevention Lifeline so always available 24-7 to people through or the one 800 number one 800 suicide there’s so sorry, Scott. There’s lots.

Scott Peper  29:39

That’s great to know, you know what, in the fact that there’s that many resources out there, I should tell everybody something, you know, we’ll we’ll put up what information we can on our resources page. We’ll make sure that there’s obviously links here associated to this video where everyone can access your information they can find easily find you find your website, your organization, and Get information that way too.

Randy Thompson 30:01

Yeah, absolutely. You can even text 741741. And you’ll get some and someone will respond. Some people see younger people even want to use different modalities to get support, you don’t have to make a call, or you don’t have to serve a website, you can actually get text based support as well.

Scott Peper  30:18

Randy, I really appreciate you taking the time to do this for our group for me, for us, our organization and all of our listeners and customers and potential customers out there. I really think it’s an important topic. It’s something that we certainly are important to us here. And I know it’s important everyone else and is anything man, if we could just have impacted even one person today, then it’s certainly worth our time.

Randy Thompson  30:41

Yeah, absolutely. And I and I know it’s a lot of information at one time. And I’m happy to answer any questions or people want to contact me via email, if I could share that is to have a conversation around the world why start or you know what’s available, I’m more than happy to respond.

Scott Peper  31:00

We’ll include your email. And if you want your phone number as well, please feel free to reach out to Randy. Randy, you’re very gracious with your time. And I really appreciate you sharing your email and number and be willing to talk to folks. That means a lot to us. Thank you.

Randy Thompson  31:13

Absolutely. We’ll get more into that. Just kind of putting it out there today. And he said if we helped a few people great. But by all means, feel free to reach out. It’s not easy to do. But once you do, you’ll be glad you did.

Scott Peper  31:27

And we’ll leave it at that. I don’t think I could finish in a better way. Thank you everyone for joining us. Randy, thank you very much for joining us today and sharing your insights and thoughts.

Randy Thompson  31:37

I can’t thank you enough. I appreciate it.

Scott Peper  31:39

Folks. If you do nothing else, have that meeting. Let people know that you care and let people know what’s on your mind. Have a great day and a great week and keep it going. Thank you very much everyone. Take care


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