In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, workforce stress is at an all-time high. More than 70% of the workforce agrees that this has been the most stressful time of their entire career. Depression rates have more than doubled, and there’s been an increase in substance abuse, domestic violence cases and suicides.
Stress and workplace accidents are closely connected, with up to 80% of workplace accidents being a direct result of stress. Essential workers who are handling delicate materials and putting themselves in harm’s way need to be mentally sharp and to be able to cope with stress — otherwise they’re at increased risk for accidents or injuries. That’s why experts are concerned with the health and safety of physically demanding industries like construction, oil and gas, and utilities.
As such, business leaders are now recognizing that psychological safety plays a huge part in physical safety and have prioritized bringing mental health resources to help improve safety.
This is where resilience training comes in, and employers have turned to this as an effective way to help their workforce get ahead of any adversity that they face and limit the negative effects of stress.
The Mental Health Brand Problem
When we think of mental health, it often conjures up images of weakness: head-in-hands imagery, suffering, anxiety or even suicide. All images that equate to mental illness. When we think of physical health, the imagery is more likened to fitness, vibrancy and athletic or healthy people, and not of someone with a cast or in a hospital bed. This contrast speaks to the brand problem facing mental health.
The reality is that mental health impacts us all — it lives on a spectrum between thriving and illness that must be monitored regularly. It changes by the day, and there’s no finish line.
However, the mental health supports we’ve provided workers are negatively contributing to this brand problem. Up until now, the focus of mental health resources has been skewed towards the illness end of the spectrum, pertaining to the one in five employees who might be in mental distress. Resources like crisis lines, teletherapy and return to work programming that are offered through employee assistance program (EAP) providers. Why? Because this is the area that’s costing employers directly through absenteeism and turnover costs. Making the issue even worse, employees rarely even know these resources exist, with less than 10% of workers utilizing mental health supports through EAP providers.
The recent move to resilience training marks a shift toward a proactive, total workforce approach and focuses on building core skills and promoting overall mental well-being in the workforce. This shift has made mental health resources more accessible, focusing on mindfulness, mental fitness and energy management — improving relatability to the wider employee population instead of just being focused on when people are broken or in danger.
Breaking Through to the Blue-Collar Workforce
For industries such as oil and gas, utilities and construction with a high concentration of field workers, their employees prefer to work with their hands because it’s what they’re used to, it’s what they do every day on the job. When there is a job to be done, they’re the ones inclined to make do with the resources at their disposal to physically find an answer to any problem that they may face. This hands-on approach is integral to their work and livelihood.
We also know these industries are male-skewed, and that males are at an increased risk of substance abuse, depression and anxiety, with suicide being the No. 1 cause of death in males under the age of 45. Males tend to be less likely to seek the help they need, whether it be due to stigma, an inability to admit weakness or to be vulnerable with their emotions or some other factor. Additionally, men like to be in control and issues with mental health or stress can render them powerless or subject to professional expertise that’s far outside of their comfort zone.
So, rather than offering our blue-collar industries access to a network of therapists that they’re unlikely to utilize, employers are now turning to resources like digital resilience training that offer privacy and a hands-on, skill-building approach to mental health and well-being. It puts the control and mental health responsibility back in the worker’s hands, just as they prefer, and gives them the ability to anonymously access content on their own time.
Reaching Employees in the Flow of Work
Mental health programs in blue-collar industries have fallen well short on accessibility. With a large concentration of remote workers that are constantly on the go and are rarely in front of a computer screen or stationery at a desk, employers have struggled with finding ways to meaningfully access their workforce with any initiative, let alone mental health.
Unsurprisingly, resources such as workshops, which are limited in reach and continuity, and EAPs, which are laptop-based and severely lacking in awareness and utilization, are not breaking through to employees and engaging them in a meaningful way.
There are two key ways in which digital resilience training has broken through the barriers many employees face when dealing with mental health: reaching workers where they are, and giving them tools to practice by doing.
For the reach part, priority environments for employers to influence blue-collar workers include their mobile phones and health and safety meetings. Resilience training has enabled employers to put bite-sized lessons and tools in their worker’s hands, this time through the technology of their mobile devices, which can be accessed anytime, anywhere. These micro trainings offer benefits to the frontline worker in as little as 5 minutes a day, not coming at the expense of time or productivity. Health and safety meetings offer a window for leadership to deliver a quick message on the important topic of mental health and well-being, encouraging the continuity of practice on their mobile devices. These consistent but easily digested approaches to health and safety reduce the stigma associated with discussing mental health while empowering employees to research, practice and understand their options in a private way.
What digital resilience training has tapped into is that people learn best by doing. By making the subject more accessible in shifting the focus from illness to well-being, to a responsibility that empowers personal control and to training that lives within the flow of the workday, resilience training is helping employers in blue-collar industries breakthrough with mental health like never before.