The U.S. Surgeon General this year gave us a workplace version of utopia. It’s called the “Framework for Mental Health & Well-Being in the Workplace.” Wouldn’t this be nice:

  • Employee physical and psychological safety is ensured
  • Adequate rest is a priority
  • Work-life harmony is a priority
  • Trusted relationships are cultivated
  • Schedules are as flexible and predictable as possible
  • Paid leave is generous
  • Boundaries between work and non-work time are respected
  • Workers have a say in decision-making
  • Workers are on the receiving end of gratitude and recognition
  • Quality training, education and mentoring is the norm
  • Pathways for career advancement are clearly marked

“We have the power to make workplaces engines for mental health and well-being,” says Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A., vice admiral, U.S. Public Health Service and Surgeon General of the United States. “The pandemic has presented us with an opportunity to rethink how we work.”

How many companies in blue collar industries will do a rethink?

Heavy industry is not well represented Fortune’s 2022 Best Companies to Work For® – only one of the top 50 companies is in manufacturing. The best places to work are most likely to be in financial services, insurance, information technology, hospitality businesses, or the all-encompassing professional services. Cisco, Wegman’s Food Markets, SalesForce, American Express and Capital One Financial are in the top ten.

A bias exists, I believe, that white collar workers — more than their blue collar counterparts — are more prone to burn out, anxiety, depression, stress overload, work-life imbalances, emotionally draining work, and have a strong need for rest, gratitude and recognition.

There is an interesting duality here. The best places to work are not — for the most part — inspected by OSHA, not physically dangerous environments, not at risk of serious injuries or fatalities,

Maybe that explains why they focus on non-OSHA, non-physical risks more than heavy industry.

A reality check

Another (mis)belief: brainy, high-priced white collar “talent” is more emotional, more likely to quit a job that’s too stressful or not flexible and balanced and must be coddled to avoid losing their “assets” to The Great Resignation.” While welders don’t cry, ironworkers are fearless; assembly line workers roll their eyes at work-life harmony; and John Wayne was never stressed out.

Blue collar industries need a reality check. It’s not all about macho men, OSHA compliance and serious injuries and fatalities. A recent CDC analysis found that blue-collar workers are at higher risk of suicide than people in other professions. Suicide data from 2016 show that men and women who work in construction and extraction jobs have the highest suicide rates of any occupation. Men who work in mining, quarrying, and oil and gas have the highest suicide rates of those in any industry. According to CDC researchers, suicide risk is linked to low-skill work, job stress, and lower levels of education and socioeconomic status.

Almost half — 47 percent — of industrial workers are stressed at their jobs, according to a recent report conducted by safety insights platform StrongArm Technologies and research firm YouGov. Twenty-four percent of respondents said the strain is having a negative effect on their mental health, while 29 percent said it is taking a toll on their physical health, too. 

It's past time to ditch the stereotype that you never saw John Wayne stressed out. The Surgeon General’s utopian workplace isn’t just for offices, right?