A chaplain for a construction company?

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For 13 consecutive years, EV Construction has been a Best & Brightest Award recipient. Though we take great honor in the receipt of these awards, the true sense of satisfaction we feel comes from knowing that we are doing our best to provide a great workplace for our employees.

We currently have 150 employees, many of whom have families in need of care. Every employee has needs, goals, fears, personal challenges and life demands. Our employees are more than names on a spreadsheet; they are part of a family, a community, they coach little league or teach Sunday school. They are valued.

Like most companies, we provide health insurance, which enables care for a person’s body. We have paid time off for sick days and vacation time to provide rest and recovery when it is needed and/or wanted. Paychecks obviously provide financial means. Looking at our benefits package, we felt good about what we had to offer, but we saw a gap in coverage. We felt we could do better supporting the emotional needs of our team members.

Corporately, we believe it is our responsibility to take care of our employees as best we can. Life often times takes unexpected, and in extreme cases, unfortunate turns. Our people experience the pain of terminal illness, loss in their families, struggles with mental dysfunction and emotional distress, endure broken relationships and so on. As an employer we know our managers and supervisors are ill-equipped to address struggles and emotional concerns of this magnitude. Additionally, while speaking to a counselor or going through therapy is helpful, many struggle with where to go and how to ask for help.

Our leadership saw a need and found a resolution — a corporate chaplain. Josh Zoerhof is not only a pastor at Ridge Point Community Church, he also is a licensed therapist. He had previously been a guest speaker at the monthly, companywide safety meetings as well as a presenter to many of our leaders on the topic of mental health in the workplace. The impact of these guest appearances led to making him a formal team member and valued resource for the EV family.

Now Zoerhof hosts a regular segment at the monthly safety meeting. He shares insights into things such as common triggers that affect a person’s mental and emotional health and ways to deal with those triggers. By instituting his consistent voice and presence, we’ve seen our team members build rapport, respect and trust in his skill and knowledge. We believe that by continually establishing trust and rapport, we provide the confidence in our team members to reach out if/when the need for a professional voice arises.

In addition to attending our safety meetings, Zoerhof is available to any employee desiring to meet with him at no cost to the employee. His contact information was distributed to each employee to use as they need it. When he bills his time to EV, no names or identifying factors about those using his services are ever given. Employees can have complete confidence in the fact that their time with him is completely confidential.

We’ve already seen success in the short season since we’ve instituted this “corporate chaplaincy” and we’ve asked Zoerhof to share a bit from his perspective.

“Over the years, I’ve worked with hundreds of professionals whose work was impacted by negative and/or pervasively difficult life situations. Some of these situations came as a result of stress in the job, but many of them came from situations outside of the workday or jobsite. For years, companies and employers have operated on the belief that stress, anxiety, depression and a host of other life issues can be compartmentalized and work can stay at work and home can stay at home,” he said. “While it’s true that the human mind and spirit are capable of navigating work-life environments and stressors, true compartmentalization is a myth. As human beings we carry our pain, sadness, stress, fears, worries of life with us into workplaces and into our homes and families. Simply put, if we have a bad day at home — it’s going to show up at work in some way (loss in productivity, friction in interpersonal relationships, etc.). Conversely, when we have greater peace and overall positive mental health, it’s going to show up at work in some way (higher productivity, lower attrition rates, more positive morale and staff interactions). Wanting the best for employees (emotionally and psychologically) often yields getting the best from employees.”

Zoerhof pointed to the coronavirus pandemic as a stress ignitor for so many people.

“This last year has been profoundly difficult on the emotional health of humanity. Every business, organization, household and family has been impacted. COVID-19 amplified virtually every aspect of emotional health issues present in our society. If you have employees and staff struggling with depression and anxiety or difficult life stresses (grief, loss, etc.), odds are you are seeing it in the workplace,” he said. “Common examples are: loss in morale, loss in productivity, difficulty managing tasks that were previously manageable, increased aggression and hostility, drinking to excess or using other substances for escape and a general apathy toward company goals or initiatives. Helping employees, staff and colleagues find safe and professional voices and people to interact with can make a significant impact on the whole person and organization. It’s good business sense — yes — but it’s also good human sense and can change the game for so many.”

Bottom line is, as employers we care about the whole person who works for us and not just when they are at work. We recognize the obvious needs — health care, paychecks, PTO, etc. But there is more that can be done. Based on voluntary feedback I’ve already received, the time and investment in bringing a corporate chaplain on board is moving the needle of the mental health of the EV family in the right direction. 

Joe Novakoski is vice president of operations at EV Construction.

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