Maintaining mental health in male-dominated manufacturing
Blue-collar industries like manufacturing have always placed a significant focus on physical workplace safety, but the importance of mental wellbeing is often overlooked. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety outlined factors that impact organizational health, highlighting the importance of psychological support, competencies and requirements and protection alongside issues like workload management and protection of physical safety.
Dr. Ryan Todd, the CEO and co-founder of headversity, explains that mental health is often overlooked when it comes to workplace health training, and stresses the importance of mental resilience training within traditionally male-dominated industries.
For women in the manufacturing sector, those challenges are unique.
“Women in male-dominated industries may experience increased isolation as a minority population, as explained by the theory of tokenism, which suggests that minority status in the workplace may lead to unequal treatment by colleagues belonging to a majority,” says Dr. Todd. “The result of isolation would increase their risk factors of stress, reduced psychological wellbeing and higher rates of absenteeism.”
There is stigma at large to speak up and seek help, but it’s not isolated to women – and those women who do speak up may feel that it does more harm than good.
“In comparison, women are actually more likely to speak up about their mental health than men, but they’re also twice as likely to experience issues like major depressive disorders,” he points out. “However, it must be acknowledged that there’s also a power differential at play in a male-dominated industry, which could negatively impact their willingness to seek help.”
Those women looking for support to cope with the unique challenges of working in manufacturing do have options, Dr. Todd says.
“Nearly every company has an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) with mental health resources and can connect you to virtual therapy, normally quite quickly. We also encourage employees, coworkers and managers to get in the practice of having C.A.R.E conversations with one another: creating time and space, attending, responding and referring, earmarking time for a follow-up,” he says. “Having regular mental health conversations lowers the stakes and enacts a forum to discuss how things are going. It can be a cathartic experience and builds ‘allyship’ between the employee and employer.”
‘Allyship’ is the lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people.
While male mental health is particular to blue-collar workplaces, there are issues that both men and women face.
“We know that stress and workplace accidents are closely connected, with up to 80 per cent of workplace accidents being a direct result of stress,” says Dr. Todd. “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. This is why building resilience is so important, as it’s been shown to be a proactive way in helping employees manage their stress and build good mental habits. Blue-collar work also brings job security concerns as technological innovation is always a constant and puts undue stress on people to perform or be replaced through innovation.”
While there are a number of resources out there to support workforce mental health and psychological safety, Dr. Todd wouldn’t go as far to suggest any one solution as a blueprint.
“There are no magic bullets when it comes to mental health. It takes time and commitment to integrate a solid mental health strategy into an organization’s culture,” he says. “For blue-collar industries specifically, we feel like headversity works well in that our platform is conducive to the realities of the frontline workforce.”
The manufacturing industry has gone through tremendous changes over the last decade, yet things are still lagging behind when compared to innovations seen elsewhere in organizations.
“The modalities have changed from in-person workshops to the early days of digital which was more content-driven and lacking data capture, to now, where behavioural health data can now give employers leading indicators that they didn’t have even five years ago,” says Dr. Todd. “Approach wise, employers are also starting to recognize the relationship between psychological safety and physical safety, which has accelerated investment into mental health strategies, for good reason. And, finally, with COVID-19, employers are now understanding that mental health is something that affects their entire workforce, not just those who are experiencing mental illness.”
So, what can employers do to make the manufacturing workplace a healthier environment for everyone?
“The key here is ‘everyone,’ and the recognition that mental health is an ‘every employee issue,’” says Dr. Todd. “The most important piece of personal protective equipment is the mind. Employers that recognize this, that invest in mental health & resilience resources to help employees build foundational skills, will be well on their way towards creating a healthy and safe work environment.”