After years of trying to mitigate the crippling microchip shortage, a different type of crisis has cropped up in the automotive industry: Employers are grappling with the growing issue of mental health — long a taboo topic in the workplace, especially for an industry defined by grit and hustle.
In response to the general increase in stress and burnout across workplaces, the state announced Thursday that it is launching a hub to centralize resources and strategies to address mental health.
The hub started from a work group launched last March and operates with existing resources from the Labor and Economic Opportunity department. Deputy Director Sean Egan said he is working on a legislative proposal to secure funding for it.
The plan is to drill down into different sectors to identify industry-specific problems, Egan said. Manufacturing and health care are at the top of the list as sectors most hampered by workplace mental health issues.
“What we see from anxiety and depression is that chronic stress is a precursor of our minds kind of moving in that direction,” Egan said.
Egan will also host monthly webinars starting Jan. 19 focused on dealing with mental health.
“In general, coming out of the pandemic, there is a sense that the workplace is not as energizing as it used to be,” Worthams said. “In society in general, people don’t like talking about mental health issues because they see it as a weakness.”
In a 2022 study conducted by nonprofit Mental Health America, which surveyed 11,300 employees in the U.S., four in five respondents said workplace issues affect relationships with family, friends and co-workers. A third of employees said their company’s leadership talks openly about mental health, and nearly 60 percent of respondents said they spent time looking for another job.
Staffing shortages persist in the auto industry and beyond, from manufacturing plants to hospitals. The Forvia plant near Detroit has struggled to hire enough employees and balance staffing with volatile customer production schedules, Halty said.
Absenteeism compounds employee dissatisfaction, according to Michelle Kaminski, associate professor at Michigan State University’s School of Human Resources and Labor Relations. That’s because workers who do show up are forced to pick up the slack and are often pressed by supervisors.
“Work is the top stressor for a lot of people, and it never used to be like that,” Kaminski said.
Across the 50 plants UAW Local 155 represents, Halty said there has been a significant increase in employee issues related to stress, burnout and violence.
“It’s the job itself, it’s the stressors of having to be a just-in-time plant, having to get these parts out,” Halty said. “It’s coming to a head, unfortunately.”
For the Forvia incident, after the suspect was apprehended and the victim transported to a hospital and declared dead, operations resumed at the plant, which makes seats for the Jeep Wagoneer built at the nearby Stellantis Warren Truck Assembly Plant.
That’s not unusual, Halty said. The underlying rule in just-in-time manufacturing: Don’t shut down the customer.