The Human Cost and Financial Opportunity of Mental Health in Construction

If somebody showed you a way to invest $1 and consistently get $2.50 in return, you’d probably be pretty interested. According to a study by PwC that’s the financial reality behind tackling mental health issues in the Australian construction industry: invest $1 in the mental wellbeing of your people and you get $2.50 back in productivity and quality gains.

Of course, this isn’t all about finances. In our experience people running construction firms care about the people who work for them just as much as any other industry. These aren’t faceless statistics, they’re colleagues and often friends.

Mates in Construction reported that 21% of construction workers in Australia were shown to have had a mental health condition. That’s one in five – how many of those could be in your firm?

Suicides among construction workers are twice as high as other industries. Construction workers are six times more likely to die from suicide than from a workplace accident.

It’s clear that the industry has a problem. One that’s made harder to address by a masculine culture, where it isn’t easy to talk about your feelings or to admit that you’re having a tough time mentally or emotionally.

You could possibly argue that construction will inevitably experience high rates of stress, mental illness and suicide, simply because the workforce is dominated by a high-risk group – young males. You could also point to the long hours, uncertainty over future work, working away from home, tight deadlines and rising client expectations.

Or you could flip that on its head and say that these factors make construction the ideal place to make a difference.

Setting the Culture


We have to change the culture and behaviour if we’re going to do anything about these grim statistics. From job descriptions and adverts, through to interviews and induction, you have a great opportunity to start setting the right cultural expectations. You can be honest about saying that the job comes with pressure without making it sound like a badge of honour.

You can also make sure that people know that it’s welcomed and expected that they will ask for help when they need it, and that they’ll look out for their colleagues. They also need to know where and how to get help.

Behaviour is also crucial. Apprentices and junior employees can sometimes get a tough time as part of an unspoken initiation and ‘toughening up’ process. This just repeats the cycle and shouldn’t be acceptable in 2019.

Transformation won’t happen overnight but small changes can add up to make a big difference. And when you consider that Australian businesses lose nearly $11bn every year because of mental health issues it’s hard to argue that it’s somebody else’s problem to solve.