Number of Employees
Tackling Stigma and Making it Safe to Talk about Mental Health
Safety has been ingrained in the family-caring culture of Lakeside Industries. And part of addressing safety includes also focusing on employee mental health and well-being. Lakeside's leadership sees this as a valued aspect of the company’s operation.
Established in 1954, Lakeside Industries is a third-generation family-owned construction business. With 650 employees, Lakeside operates 11 divisions and one affiliated company with 20 production facilities in Washington and Oregon. The company is a union contractor with signed agreements with three labor unions that provide skilled labor, including unions representing: 1) operating engineers 2) laborers and 3) teamsters.
The company is active in the local communities and operates with an ethos of "giving back to those we serve." Each division of the company finds creative ways to impact their local community. For example, food drives and adopting families in need during the holidays or return to school season. This promotes employees feeling connected to the community and making a difference in community activities and philanthropy, which reinforces unity, togetherness and teamwork.
The Organization's Workplace Mental Health and Wellness Initiative
While incidents of suicide impact every industry, Cal Beyer, director of Risk Management at Lakeside understood the higher risk among men in the construction industry. The construction industry has the highest suicide rate of any occupational group. Men out-pace women nearly four to one in suicide deaths.
Cal explains the tough guy and gal mentality of construction as "suck it up and get through whatever is thrown at you." The idea of being open to personal issues at work, is difficult for most in this industry. Many perceive that sharing mental health struggles would be met with indifference. So for Cal, the question became "how do we reduce stigma and make it okay to talk about mental health concerns in a tough-guy and gal environment"?
In 2014, Cal and his team began integrating mental health and suicide awareness into the safety health and wellness program and practices. In integrating and launching this initiative, Lakeside:
- incorporated a safety orientation video that included information on how the company addresses mental health and suicide prevention at work,
- used free, downloadable posters available from the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention, and
- gave all new hires three wallet cards in the orientation process that had information on these resources: Crisis Text Line, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and Lakeside's Employee Assistance Program.
Cal emphasizes the importance of leadership buy-in. When he presented the business case, the company president and CFO were on board. Lakeside's leadership embraced the concept of weaving mental health and suicide prevention into their safety, health and wellness program.
Once they learned that there was a need to offer expanded behavioral health services, leadership went a step further by supporting a custom Employee Assistance Program that would expand coverage. Ordinarily, EAPs cover the employees in a health plan. A union employer provides health benefits for the union member and the employer provides health benefits for the administrative salaried employees. Lakeside’s leadership was generous to expand the EAP to cover hourly union member employees in addition to the administrative salaried employees.
Other key personnel involved in the Workplace Mental Health and Wellness Initiative included Risk Management & Safety, responsible for the development and ongoing promotion of the initiative; Human Resources, responsible for administering the EAP and providing confidential follow-up with employees and families seeking integrated benefits; and Divisional Management, responsible for incorporating mental health discussions into the new hire orientation and supporting the program.
Communicating the Initiative Internally and Externally.
Since Lakeside began addressing mental health, they've successfully communicated this work through multiple channels, including the following:
- Company newsletter. Including important telephone numbers for Crisis Text Line, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the company's Employee Assistance Program, along with articles and resources on mental health.
- Supervisory and managerial training. Including guest speaker Dr. Jenn Stuber from the University of Washington's Forefront Suicide Prevention nonprofit, who presented to 175 supervisors at Lakeside's Annual Leadership Conference.
- Peer-to-peer communication. Using a "How to Have the Conversation" resource during interactive divisional safety meetings addressing behavioral health and safety scenarios. Lakeside foremen and safety team members give Safety Toolbox Talks addressing why mental health and suicide prevention are workplace safety topics.
- "Pocket Packets". Three wallet cards and two hard hat stickers in a small coin envelope to make the topics of mental health and suicide prevention "portable" and accessible.
- External communication. Contributing numerous articles for construction industry publications. Lakeside personnel presented at numerous suicide prevention summits, association meetings and conferences. They also created a Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Resource Directory for companies to use and shared resources with construction associations.
- Industry advocacy. Taught 18 safety, human resources, operations and union professionals how to conduct toolbox talks on mental health and suicide prevention by leading toolbox talks for 1,150 employees on job sites in Seattle. Taught union and non-union apprenticeship coordinators how to incorporate mental health and suicide prevention into orientation and training curricula. Helped organize two construction industry stakeholder groups in Washington and Oregon to collaborate on suicide prevention.
- Internal acknowledgement. Humanitarian Awards presented to two employees for their work on mental health and suicide prevention.
- Other marketing materials. An affiliated company (Bayview Asphalt in Seaside, OR) provided special sweatshirts with mental health and suicide prevention messages to reinforce the importance to community members. The sweatshirts and t-shirts were designed by employees of the company. All employees were given shirts to wear in the community. The shirts and sweatshirts have the suicide prevention ribbon on the front, one of 4 different messages, and the phone numbers and logo for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
The initial goal of the Workplace Mental Health and Wellness Initiative was to reduce stigma related to mental health and suicide and to see if it was possible to combine psychological safety with a caring safety culture. The second goal was to see if employees would engage when given the opportunity to talk about mental health in the workplace. The third goal was to make the initiative self-sustaining by getting everyone comfortable sharing resources and talking about mental health.
As a result of Lakeside's efforts, they have seen greater acceptance of mental health and suicide prevention and employees are more willing to share their experiences.
By ensuring employees know how and where to get help when needed, Lakeside has consistently seen an increase in:
- EAP utilization.
- Employees volunteering in community mental health events.
- Employees volunteering by sharing their lived experience and serving as peer-to-peer resources.
- Employees testifying or sending letters of support for suicide prevention legislation.
- Leaders participating in joint labor-management training sessions with unions on mental health, suicide prevention and addiction recovery.
Like many organizations, the Lakeside team faced some challenges in addressing mental health. One of the biggest was overcoming the stigma, especially because it can be a taboo topic in the construction industry. Lakeside found that by "baking" the mental health topic into a safety, health and wellness culture and programs, employees began to be more accepting.
While Cal and his team have learned many lessons along the way, here is his advice for other employers starting up or revamping a workplace mental health initiative:
- Get leadership support right away.
- Acknowledge the "awkward" and "uncomfortable" feelings people may experience but teach employees how to overcome that awkwardness and how to engage in conversations about mental health and well-being.
- Partner with labor unions to help make mental health and suicide prevention a safety topic and priority.
- Share resources and communicate often.
- Don't give up, recognize this is a worthy fight.
The plan is to continue allowing the initiative to evolve and grow by sharing resources.
The Center appreciates the contributions of Cal Beyer, Director of Risk Management for Lakeside to this case study. For more information, please contact Darcy Gruttadaro, Director of the Center for Workplace Mental Health (firstname.lastname@example.org) .