The Resilience Dividend: Prioritizing Workforce Mental Health and Maintenance

May 17, 2024 |

Kiewit Senior Vice President Alicia Edsen champions a construction industry call to action.

As an industry, we spend a lot of time focusing on the tangible aspects of work in construction and engineering. Things like quantities, schedules, progress on the job site, and especially the equipment and processes that keep our people safe — they’re all things we manage carefully and consistently to prevent mistakes and injuries. But sometimes, the things that aren’t quite as visible pose a much bigger threat.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and industry leaders are painfully aware that the suicide rate for construction workers is the second highest of all other industries. That is four times greater than the national average.

As we reflect on the significance of mental well-being this month, at Kiewit we are challenging our employees, partners and peers to help make sure that resilience and mental health don’t become just another “latest trend” or set of buzzwords. These are very serious issues that need serious, sustainable solutions and support. We can do that by building mental wellness into the day-to-day essentials of our collective safety and success.

When people use the words strength or resilience, they’ll often credit life’s pressures and high demands for creating “a thick skin,” but we’re only human. While “powering through it” may make us seem tougher, it’s not sustainable and will eventually catch up with us either physically, mentally, or both.

Effectively decompressing and coping with stress in healthy ways is what makes us resilient in the long run. The good news is, there are skills you can develop to regulate emotions, manage reactions and recognize signs of distress within yourself and in others. It’s important to proactively train, coach and support our people so they’re better conditioned for life’s inevitable curve balls. Even more important — giving people access to the help they need and showing them where to turn when they can’t do it alone. Investing in mental well-being and maintenance means more people will be better prepared when times get hard, whether that’s at work or at home.

Over the past few years, Kiewit’s Under the Hat™ resources have helped employees and their families get the help they need through a variety of tools and confidential mental health services. Since we’ve started to normalize the conversation, so many of our employees have come forward to share their stories and ideas. Many more continue to champion the importance of mental well-being among their teams and we’re excited to see our industry peers engaging in the conversation as well. To me, this signals a real, meaningful shift in the health and safety of the construction industry.

Like other good habits, investing time in mental wellness will pay strong dividends and create positive ripple effects in all our lives. Employees who feel cared for and have access to the tools they need bring their best selves to work; they collaborate better, make fewer errors and contribute to a stronger safety culture.

As an industry, we pride ourselves on identifying risks before they become a problem. Let’s work together and make sure we’re doing everything we can to mitigate this one. Our people, our families and our communities deserve it.


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