Today’s culture celebrates being busy. Hustle culture can do more than spur you to take on a side job or create a business in your spare time – it can make rest a shameful thing. Reducing stress isn’t a luxury, it’s necessary for long term health and well-being.
There’s no secret that construction is a stressful industry. Feast-or-famine schedules require long hours during busy periods, and stress over the bottom line when the work is slow. Ever tightening timelines and even tighter margins means every day has to be maximized. And even when the schedule’s all lined up, unexpected issues are bound to arise, so putting out fires is a daily activity.
That doesn’t mean your health has to suffer as a construction project manager. There are specific things you can do to help lighten each day’s load.
We checked in with industry pros to find out what they do to manage their stress on the job, and their best advice for dealing with stress in construction.
Pre-plan ahead to keep things in perspective
It can be hard to justify spending time doing extra research, checking one more document, and working on preconstruction when milestones and project deadlines are looming. But the pre planning stages of a construction project can save reams of time down the line, thus paying for themselves and avoiding some stressful situations at the same time.
First, doing thorough research and planning can help win bids, nullifying some of the impact of that feast-or-famine cycle. By providing the most comprehensive preplan your company can come up with you can provide owners with the closest approximation of actual cost, and feel confident doing it.
One of the most stressful parts of the job is always knowing there will be unforeseen hiccups, but not knowing what they are, says Shane Hedmond, construction project manager and editor-in-chief of constructionjunkie.com.
That fear of the unknown can be mitigated through thorough investigation and planning beforehand, by identifying potential pitfalls so a plan can be made to avoid them before they cause trouble. Going to the trouble of getting a phase one environmental assessment, for instance, will help understand the nature of the site better, and if there are potential problems like soil or groundwater contamination, before shovels hit the ground.
Communication is big, and communication is key
One of the key traits of successful construction project managers is the ability to communicate openly and with diplomacy to owners, tradesworkers and everyone in between.
Communicating with trades teams early and often, and collaborating with them on the scheduling aspects of a project, means the project benefits from their expertise, too. Ken Toews, senior vice president of development at Strategic Group says when the unexpected crops up he leans on contractors to help come up with cost-effective solutions. “I call on the people I know can help,” he says.
Project managers also need clear and open lines of communication with owners to understand their goals, best figure out how to achieve them, and to help owners understand that construction projects rarely proceed in a linear fashion.
“It’s important to manage expectations up front,” Hedmond says. “Letting them know, ‘this isn’t going to be perfect, things will go wrong, but we just have to come up with a new plan,’” he says.
Once that new plan is in place, you have to make sure everyone is aware of it. Hedmond says it’s a lot less stressful if owners know that you’re dealing with the situation as it unfolds and you’re keeping them informed. “It helps when they know you’re not just blowing them off,” he says, and it will help you with your stress reduction too.
Know when to turn off
Don’t get married to your job. A management position means that, yes, when you’re not on site you could get phone calls and emails asking you to take care of some problem. It’s important to know when to shut off the phone and tune out.
Stress is not problematic in itself. The ongoing nature of stress is what harms, when there are no relaxed rest periods when your body is free from stress response. Is that possible for a construction project manager?
Hedmond says yes – in many cases he’s able to keep the position from 7-5, with exceptions from municipal zoning meetings or when an inspector needs to do the work especially early in the morning or late in the day.
Good pre-planning and boundary-setting should allow you the time you need to unwind.
Is all stress bad?
All the evidence on the negative effects of stress is focused on chronic stress. Ongoing, day-in, day-out stress response can lead to immune suppression and has ties to the onset of many other illnesses.
Acute stress, on the other hand, is a burst of physical reaction to a sudden threat, and it might not be so bad. In the short term it can actually boost immune function and sharpen thinking for best performance.
Toews says this type of stress is a part of life, and something that can be expected when you challenge yourself. “A little bit of stress is good. It brings out the best in people,” he says.