Attracting and retaining the best staff is always high up on the agenda item within Queensland construction companies.

This topic comes up on a daily basis for me as I speak to hundreds of clients in Tier 1, 2 and 3 construction companies, candidates and other strategic industry partners and representatives.

Furthermore, many clients ask me what true points of differences they can offer over their competitors to attract and retain the best staff in the industry.

And on the flip side, candidates talk to me about what they look for from their next employer vs their current situation.

One common theme, in both sets of discussions, which continually comes up is around mental health in the construction industry and what is being done to combat this issue.

Why is this? The CEO of Mates in Construction (MIC) Jorgen Gullestrup said the construction industry experiences around 191 suicides a year, that’s 30 per cent more than any other industry.

That’s one in every six people who work in the industry. Since MIC began in 2007 in Queensland, the rate has dropped to eight per cent.

While they are clear they can’t take full credit for this, anyone within the industry can see that there is a strong correlation between the program starting and getting people talking and the number of suicides and attempted suicides dropping.

So what does this mean for your company? Or the construction industry as a whole?

The construction industry isn’t straightforward, as many different companies are involved in specific individual projects. Each part being contracted out again and again, as the work packages get divvied up to each particular specialist.

You can work for a company, but be out on-site, away from the head office and the company’s employees.

How do you as an employer look after the staff you barely ever see? How often do you get to speak to, see, or socialise with people from your company?

If you work on the same site as them or the same part of the office, then you’ll get that opportunity, but otherwise, you could work somewhere for 20 years and rarely see or speak people within your place of employment. That’s not a normal situation in other industries.

And how do you as an employee voice an opinion or be heard?

There isn’t a simple answer from an overall perspective Grant Galvin the MD of the Master Builders Association said.

“Construction is the fourth largest employer as an industry and the cascading effect of work being subbed out and with so many different project types within the industry, we are only just touching the tip of the iceberg on mental health awareness and suicide prevention in the industry,” Mr Galvin said.

“Job security is a big worry for a lot of workers and legislative changes for companies. If we could keep one political party in for two terms it would create stability and a steady flow of work, without the stop start nature we are currently experiencing.”

Companies like Woollam Constructions and Watpac have Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) in place for their staff to access, should they have any need or want, to talk to a professional about work, money, family, friends, health etc.

It’s a start and they both acknowledge that it’s something that needs to come more to the forefront of company improvement initiatives.

A number of mid-tier companies that I spoke with credited their longevity of employment (upwards of a 12 and 20-year averages) to having a mixture of more experienced workers mentoring and working closely with younger, fresher employees to show them the ropes and lend them support professionally and personally.

Other company initiatives like boot camps, end of trip facilities and flexible working hours also contribute to the happiness of their employees. These companies have a family focus and believe in give and take.

They don’t work their staff every Saturday, rotate the undesirable days as much as possible and hold a realistic view of family and personal commitments outside of work.

You could call it work life balance, or you could call it mental health checks.

Despite all of this, I still found in my discussions that mental health is still taboo within the industry.

Every day I talk to candidates looking for work, either out of work or unhappy in their current place of employment. The common theme is that people are at breaking point from being overworked, underappreciated, with little support and a desire to be happy.

Rarely are they looking to leave because of wage. Many tell me they want to leave because of the six-day working week, 70 hour weeks for $120-$140k a year.

While the pay sounds great, when you break it down over the hours worked it works out to be about $35 an hour for a highly skilled experienced employee, who barely sees their family and friends.

A couple of years ago, offering an additional $20k to a potential employee would do the trick.

But more and more, my colleagues and I are finding that employees have realised the age old ‘money doesn’t buy happiness’ rings true.

They tell us they would trade some of that wage for a Saturday off, a social touch team, Friday afternoon drinks with the people they work with and the ability to spend times with loved ones.

There are many ways a company can add value to the lives – at work and outside – of their employees, than just monetary incentives.

To attract and retain the best talent and to combat the suicide rates in the construction industry, the non-monetary ‘value adds’ are the incentives that will see you hiring less, and hopefully saving a life.

If you would like more information on strategies to attract the best talent or ways to keep them, let me know. After all, I work in this industry because I’m passionate about building relationships and helping people find their right place at work.

Lizzi Byrne is a Consultant at Davidson, Projects & Operations