Work stress demolishes mental health

A new Bond University study involving almost 500 participants has revealed work pressures were the main source of stress for construction project managers and affected their ability to perform their jobs. In contrast, workers across business at large said non-work issues were the greatest contributors to stress.

Report author Professor Alan Patching is calling for systemic change in the Australian construction industry to protect workers’ mental health. The consequences of failing to act included suicide, he said. Professor Patching, who was project director for construction of the Sydney Olympic Stadium, said a cut-throat approach to tendering and wafer-thin profit margins were driving the stress epidemic.

“The current most commonly used contracting system effectively often requires tenderers to bid with low or no margin prices and/or to offer reduced construction time in order to win work,” Professor Patching said. “That, in turn, requires appointing more experienced and usually already over-committed construction project managers to manage the project in a way that drives some level of profit from it”. Professor Patching said construction industry culture was a key stumbling block to taking action. Research from 2009 showed absenteeism due to stress-related illness increased dramatically in every area of business except construction, despite concerning suicide rates among construction workers over the period of the study.

“It was not that construction people were not experiencing stress-related illness, they simply did not report it for fear of appearing weak in an industry reputed for its tough image,” Professor Patching said. “My research confirmed that this attitude is still very much alive and kicking. It needs to be eradicated.”