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The Invisible Workplace Crisis

"Business owners and trade associations have a key role to play when it comes to mitigating the ‘invisible’ mental health crisis pervading today’s workplace.”

authors Eliot Sefrin | October 7, 2021

There’s little doubt that COVID-19 has radically transformed the residential remodeling, housing and kitchen/bath landscape.

For one thing, remodeling demand is reportedly at record highs, with both short- and long-term forecasts overwhelmingly positive. At the same time, new lifestyles emerging as byproducts of the global pandemic are proving responsible for the current mindset driving home design, product preferences and consumer purchases. Homes have literally been transformed, doubling in many cases as offices, schools, playgrounds and multi-generational residences. Wellness, sanitization, biophilic design and an emphasis on outdoor living have become more pronounced than ever. Multi-functional kitchens and eco-inspired baths remain high on the list of remodeling projects favored by homeowners.

But there’s more to the impact of the coronavirus than simply that.

Businesses on every rung of the product-distribution chain have been forced in the past 18 months to essentially reinvent themselves, implementing virus-mitigation strategies ranging from masking and showroom protocols to an increased emphasis on remote employees and digital-connectivity tools. Product costs have risen sharply, while labor shortages have been exacerbated and supply chain disruptions continue to result in project delays. Home prices have also spiked amidst shrinking inventories and a pronounced flight from the cities.

And now there’s yet another COVID-related issue that’s increasingly impacting the residential construction trade: the profound impact that the public-health crisis is having on workplace mental health.

Indeed, throughout the months-long pandemic, employees and business owners alike have faced an unprecedented confluence of issues threatening their physical and mental wellbeing. Routines have been disrupted, relationships strained, fears heightened over personal health and the health of loved ones. Feelings of isolation have led, in many cases, to a pervasive sense of loneliness and vulnerability. Anxiety, uncertainty, depression and stress have similarly taken a toll. While many remote employees are handling the disruptions well, others miss the sense of connectedness they had once in offices, factories and showrooms.

The subject of workplace mental health has been thrust into the public spotlight in recent months, particularly now that the nation is experiencing a resurgence of the coronavirus amidst contentious differences regarding issues like masking and vaccinations. And now, with no end to the pandemic seemingly in sight, many people are experiencing a sense of “horizonlessness,” the lack of a firm reference point regarding the future, as well as a sense of déjà vu regarding potential job losses and business closures.

All of this has had a cumulative effect. Indeed, workplace mental health is being described by experts as an “invisible crisis” that has yielded a palpable rise in chronic pain, fatigue, substance abuse, loss of productivity and suicide.

It has also yielded, thankfully, some decisive action.

The National Association of Home Builders, for example, is actively attempting to change the culture regarding mental health awareness by providing resources tailored to employees and business owners in the residential construction trade. As evidence, the NAHB recently launched a multi-faceted initiative focused on helping business owners support healthy work environments and turn mental health awareness into action. As part of that effort, the NAHB partnered with other trade groups and mental-health experts to develop specific tools for business owners to learn more about employee wellbeing, help eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness, and encourage employees to utilize the resources available to help navigate this complex, sensitive issue.

This effort is more than simply commendable. Indeed, it should serve as a model for others.

Business leaders and industry trade associations have an important role to play when it comes to balancing worker health with the ROI that can be realized by focusing on wellness through the lens of lower healthcare costs, reduced absenteeism and increased productivity.

Corporate management should fully understand why mental health is essential to the success of their companies. They should also understand how they can be proactive in incorporating mental health into a company culture that prioritizes the wellness of employees as much as it does revenue and profits. ▪

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