8 days a week: Managing stress in an overheated construction market


I believe that I speak for most of the West Michigan construction community when I say that 2018 was a great year. Investment, development and expansion in our communities are happening all around us, providing plenty of opportunity for the contracting community.

Our businesses are growing as quickly as we can find the talent to expend and we are producing some beautiful spaces throughout the region. Things are generally good in the construction industry; however, there is another side of the coin.

The West Michigan construction industry has experienced high demand for several years and this sustained period of growth has affected several parts of the industry. There have been many blogs about the labor shortage and rising construction pricing, but a more insidious effect is the stress that this market is putting on our employees. This personal stress is important to recognize and manage as a leader. The negative consequences can be detrimental to the health and safety of an already strained workforce. Here are some tips to help manage employee stress in busy times.

Pay attention to your team

This sounds obvious and simple, but as the days and weeks fly by in the hurried rush to complete a project, it can be easy to lose track of individuals. Find time to buy your teams a breakfast or lunch. Make time to have a one-on-one conversation with leaders from around your organization. Use all of that road time to call individuals in the organization just to check in (using hands free devices of course.) As a leader, these direct communications will allow you to take the pulse of the organization and stay ahead of stress related conflicts.

Act quickly

Stress can boil over in an instant. We all have witnessed a stress-related “blowup” that can have lasting effects on relationships and team performance. When you hear about a brewing conflict, address it quickly and directly. Consider face-to-face communications rather than emails and text messages to avoid any confusion in your message. Show people that you are genuinely concerned with resolving the conflict. You will find that many times, just listening to an individual’s concerns is enough to diffuse an explosive situation.

Give ’em a break

Deadlines and schedules are an ever present reality in our business. We can feel like we are working 8 days a week and it still is not enough. Many times, though, vacations and time off contradict our strong, West Michigan work ethic and our “do whatever it takes” attitude. As a leader, you must recognize the benefits of vacation and embrace the need for it by encouraging employees to take time off. There are only very rare occasions, in my opinion, when vacation would be denied. Your employees have earned time off and they will perform better after enjoying this important decompression time.

If you can’t get away, make the best of it

Sometimes, you just can’t get away from a stressful jobsite or situation. In these cases, look for the small opportunities to help manage the stress. Move employees off a stressful job for a day or two to re-energize them. Find time for a catered lunch or break. If possible, take an entire crew out for a fun activity or outing. I know this sounds impossible if you have a demanding client, but the project will ultimately benefit from the higher quality, performance and safety of a crew that is not over-stressed.

As I’ve discussed the business of the industry with others, the most common response I hear is, “It’s a good problem to have.” That may be true, but it is a problem nonetheless. Leaders need to watch for signs of stress in employees and address them quickly. No demand is worth burning out your people. The fallout from losing good people will last much longer than the short-term sting of upsetting a client.

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