Achieving and accommodating a superior work-life balance for the next generation of construction workers
Words: Ashley Johnson
In any occupation, profession, or industry, to be successful and thrive it’s essential to maintain an efficient and effective work-life balance. A healthy mind and a healthy body affects all areas of life, both professional and personal. When professional and personal lives are out of alignment, health is jeopardized, productivity is compromised, and negative behaviors develop.
This work-life balance is even more important in the construction industry, which is known for long hours, long days, extensive physical strain, and significant mental stress. Life is a balance, and that includes work life.
With construction being the third most stressful industry, maintaining a healthy balance is even more important. Not only is construction one of the most stressful, but it also has some of the highest rates of work-related injuries, chronic pain, and suicide. These reasons alone should be enough to take extra care.
Because of demanding schedules, budgets, projects, and clients in the construction industry, stress and conflict become an unavoidable presence. Long days are compounded by travel to and from job sites. Add the physical toll that construction environments add, and it’s no wonder that more than 50% of employees suffer from chronic pain, anxiety, and depression.
Conflict in construction at all levels can result in exhaustion, increased injuries, taking more sick days, showing up less to work, high turnover, reduced productivity, and a multitude of other repercussions. When the budget is strained or stringent, this can add unexpected costs, delay production, or worse.
The solution though is to recognize and promote a healthy work-life balance early from both the employee perspective and the employer perspective. As important as it is to take ownership of our own professional and personal lives, the effort has to come from both sides.
What can employees do
Separate professional from personal
Personal lives need to stay personal, and so should professional lives. As hard as it might be, while outside work, at home, or with friends or family, separate yourself from work. In other words, turn your work phone on Do Not Disturb or turn the ringer to silent.
If you are one who constantly checks email or your phone, try silencing your phone one day a week. Increase to two days, then three days until you are able to fully separate work communication from personal communication.
When work life is allowed to infiltrate personal life, you are essentially giving the OK to your manager, colleagues, clients, and other professional contacts to interrupt you anytime of day, 24 hours a day.
It’s always a good idea to set boundaries, especially when it comes to work-life balance. Boundaries should be established early by employees. The interview process is a good time to start.
Before accepting an offer, put into writing the hours you will work, the option for a flexible schedule, days off, vacation time, and other perks and benefits. By not establishing boundaries early and in writing, you are setting yourself up for disaster and allowing your professional life to intrude on your personal life.
The longer you go without setting boundaries, the harder it will be to permanently establish them. Once clients and colleagues know they can contact you after 6 pm, or email you at 10 pm and receive a response, they will come to expect this type of communication and follow-through regularly.
You do you
Everyone has a passion, a way to relax or feel good. For some people, that is getting outside into nature, golfing, hiking, fishing, boating, camping, traveling. This “You” time is critical to maintaining your sanity both at work and outside of work.
When the weekend comes or you have time off, take advantage of it and go do what you love to do, without work distractions. When you return to work, you will be refreshed and work more effectively. Job satisfaction will improve, and so will productivity.
Allowing ourselves time to unwind and participate in activities that make us happy not only improves our physical health, but mental health as well.
What can employers do
Construction is known for its demanding 8-to-5 work day, overtime requirements, 70- to 80-hour work week on job sites or in construction offices. It’s not uncommon to experience significant physical strain and pain caused by lifting, carrying heavy loads, repetitive motions, and intense temperature extremes in winter and summer.
All of this takes a toll on both the body and mind, and on professional and personal lives.
As a younger generation enters the labor market, the demand for flexibility is increasing in business and professional life. As an employer, adopting a flexible schedule or compressed work week gives control to employees to work at peak performance and take care of personal and family matters.
Emerging in the last decade and popularized during the pandemic, flexible schedules can increase productivity and satisfaction while reducing mental and physical fatigue.
Working on days that fit within employees’ lifestyles compensates for overtime or weekend work. Sometimes emergencies arise at work and it’s just not possible to take off work. Alternatively, emergencies arise in our personal lives that cannot be avoided. A flexible schedule accommodates these events with time off available to employees when it’s necessary or convenient.
Flexible scheduling can be applied to more than just time off and a scheduled work week. Maybe instead of an 8-to-5 day, a 6-to-3 day works better for some employees.
A compressed work week sees businesses allowing employees to work 10-hour days in exchange for a three-day weekend. Not has this been shown to increase productivity and focus, but it can help manage attendance and reduce absentee workers.
An output work model is another flexibility option being adopted by employers. Instead of focusing on the number of hours worked, employees are empowered to complete and dedicate the amount of work necessary to complete projects, jobs, and assignments.
Perks matter to millennials
As millennials enter the labor market, they expect benefits and perks beyond what is standard. This next generation of workers realize how important work-life balance is. If companies do not understand this and accommodate this, skilled, educated, and hardworking labor will go somewhere else that does.
Moreover, work-life balance applies to more than just employees with families and young children. Health and recreation has become the center of life for a majority of younger workers. There is an emphasis and importance placed on spending time not just with family, but peer groups, pets, and social circles.
Companies that not only offer flexibility outside of work, but encourage and foster a fun and vibrant work culture will attract the best talent and devoted workers. And this workforce will translate into loyal employees who stick around and dedicate their careers to the company.
Embrace physical and mental safety
Safety should include more than just a hazard-free work environment. As important as it is to maintain a job site and offices that prevent injuries and accidents, it is equally important to acknowledge and accommodate mental safety.
Considering that construction is one of the most stressful industries in which to work, it makes sense to dedicate resources and support to employees’ state of mind.
Work-related stress can severely impact focus, commitment, and productivity, leading to errors, injuries, accidents.
Because construction is a male-dominated industry, there is stigma attached to admitting to anxiety and depression. By starting the discussion and providing support, making employees aware of this support and benefits, the stigma is reduced.
Employers can also offer support through telehealth. This offers a discreet, affordable, convenient way to address mental health.
Employers should offer company-wide workshops, training, and events focused on mental health. By encouraging discussion, making these events fun and interactive, employers can humanize mental health as well as their business operations.
The month of November is recognized as Movember to focus and draw awareness to men’s health. This movement for men encourages men to grow mustaches in support of men’s health. Nothing is more powerful and effective than letting your employees know you support them and want the best for them.
Professionals in the construction industry can learn from other high-stress industries like law enforcement and firefighting where mental health, stress, and overall wellbeing is consistently being tackled in new, modern ways.
As we progress into the future, with impending shortages of workers, construction companies are going to have to adapt their operations and offerings to compete and attract the best talent.
Companies are realigning priorities to focus more on employees and shaping business models to support and foster employee growth. Organizations that don’t will be left behind and see their influence and standing in communities, the industry, and workforce diminish.