Whether a jobsite remains open or shuts down during the coronavirus pandemic, construction workers in Ontario and across the province will likely face mental health challenges.
“The same basic challenges are going to exist for the workers and for the managers of those workers,” said Sean Reid, president and head coach, Arrowhead Coaching and Facilitation Solutions.
“What is clear is there is a need for people in the construction industry right now to equip themselves with certain skills to manage their mental health through this situation and even more so for leaders of these companies to support the mental health of their people with certain strategies.”
While construction in Ontario has remained an essential service, the Ontario government announced April 3 it will be shutting down some sites in the residential, ICI and commercial sectors. All essential infrastructure projects such as hospitals and transit, will be able to continue.
Reid said workers who are not comfortable on the jobsite should not go to work.
There is this social conflict these workers who are still trying to put food on the table and trying to be useful are struggling with,
— Sean Reid
Arrowhead Coaching and Facilitation Solutions
“If any worker feels unsafe working right now because of COVID-19 they should stay home period,” said Reid.
“What a lot of workers are experiencing right now, what all of us are experiencing, is a sense of overwhelming fear, of uncertainty… It’s natural to feel afraid, angry and want to blame others in this situation and that is doubly so when workers are still coming on to the jobsites.”
He said workers need to decide what is best for themselves and their families.
“The important thing is for every worker to take ownership of their own circumstances, to take control of their own decisions for themselves and for the benefit of their family and loved ones,” said Reid.
“If they decide the most responsible thing they can be doing right now is to continue working, to continue to support the economy and put food on the table then that’s a decision for them to make at that time. But if the worker decides after weighing all the information the right thing for them to do is for them to stay home, that’s the right thing for them to do.”
Some workers are experiencing social stigma from family and friends for choosing to go to work, he said.
“There is this social conflict these workers who are still trying to put food on the table and trying to be useful are struggling with,” said Reid. “There is another part of their social environment telling them they are being selfish and they need to stay home and that’s creating enormous pressure on these workers.”
A source of the stress is people don’t feel like they have much control over the situation.
“Every one of us, and especially our frontline workers, have a choice about how we respond to this situation,” said Reid.
“They can’t control the person they are working next to who may or may not show up with symptoms on the jobsite, they can’t control the decisions their employer makes about certain safety protocols on the worksite. The question workers need to ask is what aspects of the situation are within my control.”
Losing a job if a jobsite is shut down can be an enormous hardship.
“Importantly for the mental health of those workers, just because they stopped working on a jobsite does not mean they have to stop working in their life,” Reid pointed out. “The challenge is going to be for workers who do end up having to stay home is to take more responsibility at home for themselves, for their households, to start to exercise those problem-solving skills, those responsibility taking muscles that they were using at work and applying them in their home lives.”
There are three things employers should be doing during this time, Reid explained. They need to be connecting everyday with their workers and checking in to see how they are doing and showing concern for their wellbeing; they have to be clear about the direction that they’re taking about the work they want their people to be doing and the environment they are working in; and they need to be consistent, creating routines and structures and patterns and habits within their workforce and their business processes so that people feel a sense of stability.
Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.