Help Leaders & Employees Handle the Pressures of Construction
BY Valerie Echter
Construction is filled with individuals who have strong opinions, have larger than life personalities and come from diverse backgrounds. Add in daily equipment and human failures, unpredictable weather conditions, unexpected project changes, and it’s no wonder many individuals within construction become overwhelmed or hit their breaking point at some time during the work week.
As an industry, we can address overwhelm. We can create a collective focus to improve the level of employee happiness and wellbeing so that construction crews can continue to build America. The strategy that many companies are leaning toward is to develop and hire employees that embrace a resilient mindset.
It’s easy to have values and say that a person stands for something when things are good. However, how do you define a person’s response to unwanted circumstances?
That key point in time is ultimately when a resilient mindset is developed; it’s the internal autopilot that comes on when things do not go as planned.
According to Brian Hess, president/CEO of The Pavement Group and Top Contractor School, “Resiliency should be a requirement to work in construction. Construction is not a controlled industry and it doesn’t cater to those who can’t handle the ups and downs; it’s a challenging industry. You have to be able to take unfortunate circumstances and know that in the end things will be okay.”
“As more and more break the mold by talking about their emotions and how they struggle with change—while still being successful—we’re finally going to see those industry and job-specific expectations start to change.”—Brian Hess
Todd Eichholz, CEO of A&A Paving agrees. “Everything in construction is changing so quickly, particularly with COVID-19. You must be willing to pivot because whatever you considered to be normal a few months ago, is never coming back. To thrive in construction today, you have to be able to adapt and continually look for ways to reinvent yourself as a company.”
Kevin Lenover, vice president of operations at BlueSky Paving believes that confidence as well as a high level of self-awareness are important components of a resilient mindset. “An employee with a resilient mindset chooses to focus on not being offended, while understanding that other generations in our workforce have different ways of teaching and passing on knowledge.
“Resiliency means knowing who you are,” Lenover continued. “If you do not know who you are and how you react to changes, you will always be fighting yourself. Furthermore, it’s imperative to allow others to be who they are—while never taking things personal.”
Find resiliency in construction
Mandi Kime, director of safety at the Associated General Contractors of Washington, has dealt with many personal and professional circumstances that have allowed her to develop a resilient mindset while helping others. “I have been called upon many times to help contractors through some tough situations (crane collapses, suicide, fatal accidents, etc.). In each case, I could sit and think about how sad or difficult it is for me… or I could focus my energy on what I get to do in those times. I get to be a source of love and light to people in crisis. I get to help others in a time of need, and I get to develop a bond with people that is indelible. And frankly, how cool is that?”
This mindset shows resiliency as a choice. A person can choose to be resilient and go with the flow or they can choose to focus on negatives and allow them to break their mind into believing in the negative. As Kime noted, “We have the ability and the responsibility to frame our circumstances in a way that sets the course and tone positively for ourselves and others. We get to determine the impact we have on the environment around us with our actions, our attitude and our communications. So, why not focus on making it positive? We can treasure the good and celebrate it more if we don’t intentionally unpack and try to live permanently in the bad.”
Undoubtedly, people have moments when they choose to be resilient and other times when they cave to the circumstance. “It all comes back to either being the lighthouse or the tugboat,” Hess noted. “Both are resilient in their own way; and both do the same thing—get ships safely to the port. The key difference is that while the tugboat pulls and expends a lot of effort, a lighthouse shines a light and simply attracts the boats to it.
Relating this to resiliency, sometimes we try to force resiliency on others versus being the lighthouse and focusing on being disciplined with our resiliency efforts daily.”
Hess continued, “Discipline, routines and consistency will always lead a person to a better version of themselves. The best leaders have constant routines, which often creates the same discipline and routine for the employees around them. The key is to create a team of resilient people, that’s when the leader is doing their best. Every leader has a moment of weakness, but when you’ve developed a resilient team, they can step in and help out.”
Most leaders are looking to hire resilient employees, so the question becomes more focused on defining the traits, qualities or personality of a resilient team member. A&A Paving has reduced 90 percent of its office personnel issues by having each new hire complete a personality profile. Company leaders are specifically looking to see who can “roll with the punches” of construction or who needs their hand held through tough times. Going further, office employees have their personality test profiles posted in cheat sheet form on their office door or workstation—noting what makes them tick, how they receive information and how they process change.
At The Pavement Group and Top Contractor School, Hess is looking at history as well as internal motivation and attitude as key attributes for employees. “Construction is a second-chance industry; it’s allowed many individuals to come back from failures and have highly successful careers,” Hess said. “With that in mind, I look at examples of an employee’s ability to be resilient in the past. I also want to know about their routines and whether they are investing in their own personal development training.”
The emotional tie to a resilient mindset
Eichholz and the team at A&A Paving look to the emotional needs of a person to decipher their level of resiliency. “If a team member is emotionally driven, they often need more time to process everything, and then react. Something we constantly evaluate when it comes to an employee’s resiliency is if they are slow to process [emotions], or quick to move.
“We can treasure the good and celebrate it more if we don’t intentionally unpack and try to live permanently in the bad.”—Mandi Kime
“Leadership, project managers and all other management positions need resiliency qualities,” Eichholz continued. “Direct reports often learn resiliency from leadership, where it’s more ‘caught than taught,’ which sets the tone for the mood and level of anxiety in the office or field.”
Emotions aren’t a common topic of discussion within construction. Crews and teams are looked at as being tough; with employees having to fit into a certain box to make it in this industry. According to Hess, handling our emotions within construction is something we need to work on.
“There’s a high amount of pressure to fit the mold as a paver operator, excavator, project manager, etc.… and it’s not working to the industry’s advantage to keep with that mindset,” Hess said. “Top Contractor School and The Pavement Group are trying to break that mold. We genuinely want to allow people to thrive in their best role and in their best way. As more and more break the mold by talking about their emotions and how they struggle with change—while still being successful—we’re finally going to see those industry and job-specific expectations start to change.”
We can improve resiliency within construction
Without a doubt, the construction sector can improve upon the way we display resiliency as well as the methods we use to address the topic. Suggestions for improving resiliency in construction include:
- Be more open to supporting others (even as competitors).
- Focus on educating and training the next generation of contractors with an emphasis on embracing technology.
- Give employees and owners a place to go. The major concern for business owners is a sense of being alone. Build a community where business owners can share challenges while offering mentorship and advice.
- Offer yourself the grace and understanding that the world around you is not perfect. Be steadfast in core beliefs but willing and able to accept and adapt to the changes life inevitably brings.
The construction industry is full of incredibly talented individuals; true visionaries and leaders who are catapulting the industry to new heights. As much as we want to hear about industry successes, it’s the moments of resiliency—those behind the scenes stories—that inevitably define an individual or organization. A company’s legacy is made from those points of resiliency when the times were incredibly tough, yet they pulled people together and created something remarkable in that moment; the moment when they had no choice but to be resilient.
Valerie Echter is a freelance social media manager and content creator for organizations and trade associations within the asphalt, construction and engineering sectors. She uses her degree in civil engineering as well as a 12-year tenure as a nationally known asphalt sales and marketing expert to educate business owners on the fundamentals of strategically implementing a social media presence to build brand authority, increase client engagement and grow sales revenue. For more information, contact her at www.linkedin.com/in/coachvalerie.