By Eamonn O’Rourke, Co-Founder and CEO of RenoRun
Stress is a killer. Not only does it contribute to chronic physical health issues, but it also hurts people mentally and emotionally. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control say men in the construction industry have the highest rates of suicide compared to other industries.
By paying attention to the impacts of stress, construction professionals can take back their health and personal lives. Working smarter, not harder, is a common saying these days, but what does that mean and how does it relate to stress? Let’s discuss this.
Stress Seems Inevitable in the Industry
Construction is a timeless industry that values hard work — perhaps too much. Older-generation workers can have that “put up and shut up” school of thought, toughing it out and pushing through when they should probably take a break. The mantra of “listen to your body” is rarely uttered on job sites.
According to an article in Healthline talking about the psychological tendencies of men:
… a lot of men fall prey to the false idea that they should be “tough enough” to fix all their problems on their own. They worry that by showing vulnerability, even in the case of physical illness, they may lose their authority with others.
It’s understandable for construction managers to fall into this way of thinking because so much is riding on their shoulders. There is a lot of pressure to perform in the construction industry. You have to be strong and have perseverance if you want to cut it. There is also a constant burden of major decision making.
If you’re a construction owner, there can be additional pressures. The success of your company impacts the jobs and families of your employees, your own family, and your personal reputation. Add to that the inherent time constraints of construction schedules. Many managers will run projects during the day, only to face a mountain of office work to do after hours. For many, there is no such thing as “after hours.” Combine all of this with not enough downtime to relax, not enough time to eat right and exercise, and that ingrained resistance to asking for support, and you’ve got a recipe for big problems.
Stressed-out construction managers don’t just affect themselves; they affect their companies’ quality of work and the well-being of the people around them, including their families, subcontractors, and co-workers. They might even lose skilled workers, which is a dire problem in this challenging labor market. While the intention of protecting these areas leads construction professionals to overwork in the first place, when stress sets in, it’s exactly these areas and loved ones that suffer. As an industry, we need to find more relaxing ways of working together, for ourselves, our employees and our families. Here are a few to get the conversation started.
Communication Comes First
Communication has to come first in your stress-reduction plan. Having clear and constant lines of communication open to all stakeholders ensures that unpleasant surprises are kept to a minimum. That includes family members so they know what to expect if a project is likely to go over time.
I recommend starting each day with a short jobsite meeting to get everyone on the same page. Consider implementing a tech solution to facilitate instant communication with off-site stakeholders. And be sure to foster a work environment where questions and discussion are welcome. If you treat communication as an annoyance, your co-workers will stop bringing information to you — information you might need.
Be sure to get everyone, from company leadership to clients to subcontractors, on the same page and communicating by the same means. Colleagues and clients will be much more forgiving if clear expectations are communicated from the get-go.
Leave Room for Change
The nature of any project is that it changes no matter how much planning is involved. Making “living” schedules that leave room for inevitable change can help reduce stress when things don’t go according to plan. If you plan for a margin of error, it’s less of a blow when errors happen.
Similarly, updating planning documents and schedules when changes happen can help keep everyone on the same page. That goes back to communication. If many stakeholders are using the same takeoff document, they’ll be able to follow changes as they happen if it’s kept up to date.
Yet, even with a built-in buffer zone and including necessary quality controls and all the communication in the world, stress still happens. It’s a cliché, but an effective way to reduce stress is to focus on time management.
Get granular and manage time in 10-minute increments. That’s what I do, and I live and die by my calendar.
Since conditions are constantly in flux on a construction jobsite, schedules can’t be ironclad, either. But some form of time management is vital if you are going to get the level of downtime you need to decompress, recharge, and come back to the job with the kind of headspace you need to do it right. Again, planning your time wisely and leaving room for change will go a long way.
Reduce Stress with Tech
While the market for actual stress reduction technology is on the rise right now, it’s taking a more practical form inside the building and construction industry. Innovators are finding tech solutions for stressful pain points like scheduling and communication. Tech solutions are available to automate most aspects of construction office work, including time cards, daily reporting, change orders and more. Even drones are being included in larger construction projects.
Yet, the building industry is notoriously resistant to adopting new tech. Some say building professionals resist adopting technology because of the initial investment in training and learning new ways of doing things. Since most tech solutions are simple to roll out and easy to learn, that seems unlikely. Regardless, and in my experience, contractors that incorporate these solutions see an almost overnight turnaround in efficiency and time savings. They significantly lower the amount of time they spend in the trailer after everyone’s gone home, lowering their overall stress level and allowing them to lead healthier lives.
That’s the key reason I founded RenoRun, because materials ordering was one of the most frustrating and stressful aspects of my years in the construction industry. It was the issue over which I felt the least control, so I designed a way for managers to take control in a way that is simple and always available on a smartphone. I turned my experience into a solution to help others be more productive, less stressed and hopefully spending more time with their families.
Convenience tech/service-providers have the potential to impact stress levels significantly. By identifying which aspect causes the most stress, contracting professionals can know where changes will have the biggest impact. If making healthy meals causes ongoing stress, there are nutritious meal delivery services available to your door. Hopefully, others will continue to innovate in the construction space, because the stress levels in the industry are a serious indicator that it needs solutions.
Learning from Experience
I learned to manage time and lower stress as a construction manager the same way anyone learns — by making mistakes. Sometimes you have to fail big to figure out what works for you. One thing is certain. You can’t afford to wait around for stress to resolve itself. Taking common-sense steps to mitigate on-the-job stress is one of the best things you can do for yourself, your staff, your family, and your bottom line.
Start with self-awareness. Could you take care of yourself better? If the answer is yes, you owe it to yourself to try and reduce stress in your life. Your blood pressure and everyone around you will benefit.
Eamonn O’Rourke is a seasoned builder and serial entrepreneur with more than 20 years of construction industry experience under his tool belt. He has built houses in Europe and North America, managing more than $45M in construction projects across the globe. With a world-class team under his leadership, Eamonn’s new focus is building technology to reshape the industry he came from with his company RenoRun.