This year, the American Psychological association reported that more people than ever before are experiencing the negative effects of work-related stress. According to the McKinsey Health Institute, employee burnout is an issue that spans all industries—including construction—across the globe.
As personal health and mental well-being become increasingly important priorities for much of the American workforce, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, modern employers must create safe and healthy work environments in order to attract and retain top talent. The Harvard Business Review recently analyzed a 2021 report on mental health at work that revealed 68% of Millenials and 81% of Gen Z voluntarily and involuntarily left roles for mental health reasons the previous year, numbers that noticeably increased since 2019. 84% of those report respondents cited at least one workplace factor that had a negative impact. It’s clear that stress, both from the workplace and outside of it, is affecting the newest generation of workers so much that they are unable to continue doing their jobs.
Too much stress leads to a decrease in productivity and a greater chance that an employee will not stay with a company long-term. But how can employers, particularly those in the busy world of construction, do their part to make sure their workers aren’t getting overwhelmed on and off site?
Preventing employee burnout is all about respect, understanding, and support. Managers and supervisors can follow the tips below to foster a company culture that promotes good mental health and help their employees stay healthy and happy.
Respect paid time off
PTO exists for a reason, and it’s one of the most common benefits employees look for when seeking a position at a new company. Employers should not only offer all full-time employees a competitive paid time off program, they should also respect that time when employees choose to use it.
Approve vacation requests
As long as requests to schedule vacation hours fit within company policy, there are few valid reasons to deny them. In fact, managers should openly encourage employees to use PTO, especially if it expires after a certain time period. During orientation, they can clearly communicate vacation policies and explain to new employees that the company expects them to take occasional time off without fear of repercussions.
Once PTO is approved, managers should refrain from contacting employees about work issues during that time unless there is a true emergency. Even when messages make it clear that no response is needed until the employee is back at work, they may feel pressured to respond or feel like an immediate reply is the expectation, so it's best to avoid doing so altogether.
Encourage mental health days
In addition to vacation, managers can emphasize the importance of using PTO for mental health reasons. Taking a long weekend or a midweek break can make a world of difference when an employee is experiencing the beginning stages of burnout.
On construction sites, supervisors may want to dedicate toolbox talks to the subject of mental health or schedule mental health awareness training.
This industry is fast-paced and high-pressured, and mental health concerns aren’t always addressed outright. Acknowledging construction work is highly stressful and encouraging employees to take PTO for mental health reasons helps erase any negative stigmas. Time off is necessary for most employees to relax and recharge. Good managers understand that.
Prioritize open communication
Many employees keep stress to themselves and don’t tell their managers when something is bothering them. Some are worried they’ll be seen as complainers or feel like expressing mental health concerns will be seen as a sign of weakness or unreliability.
However, honest communication can help managers and employees solve problems that would develop into burnout later down the line. It is the manager’s responsibility to establish open communication and create a safe space for employees to express their concerns. Providing an email address, phone number, or other form of contact information is recommended, and managers should make sure they consistently monitor those channels and are responsive.
While meetings and messaging systems work well in offices, in construction field work sometimes makes it difficult to have private conversations, and employees may not feel they have an avenue for sensitive discussions. While they should still make it clear they are available to talk if an employee would like to bring up any issues, managers may also want to keep a close eye on daily reports.
If they notice specific tasks aren’t often completed on time or a part of the work process is inefficient across several jobs, they can proactively reach out to employees involved to see if anyone has any feedback. Listening to what those employees have to say openly without judgment can give managers a chance to reassess pain points and help employees feel heard.
While most employees don’t need awards and elaborate fanfare, no one likes their hard work to go unnoticed. Managers need to acknowledge when their employees do well, and companies should create a process for recognizing achievements.
Whether it’s a simple thank you message from a supervisor, an announcement to the whole team during a morning meeting, or a shout-out by the CEO at the company town hall, praising a job well done shows employees their work is valued.
There is no limit to the amount of times a manager can thank their direct reports to help promote better job satisfaction, and employee appreciation efforts also greatly benefit employee retention. Workers are much more likely to stay with a company that appreciates them.
Evenly distribute work
Employees are quick to experience burnout when they feel like they are bearing most of their team’s burden. Others may worry they will be laid off if they aren’t given enough tasks to fill up their day. People work at different paces, but it’s up to managers to understand what each employee’s capabilities are and evenly distribute the work as best as possible so no one feels underutilized or gets overloaded.
Track employee hours
Some employees may feel comfortable telling their boss when they’re overwhelmed or need more tasks, but others may simply take on too much work or stress about hours without saying anything. Implementing detailed but easy-to-use construction time tracking software allows managers to monitor how much work each employee is doing and make adjustments when necessary.
It’s important to establish that time tracking software is meant to help the business work more efficiently and effectively, not to penalize employees. Managers should encourage their reports to accurately track time and, if they notice any potential issues with an employee’s work schedule, should reach out to them to confirm before making any changes.
Allow flexible scheduling
While it can be difficult to make your own work hours in construction with most projects on tight schedules, managers should allow for some flexibility. Does an employee ask for an extra fifteen minutes of lunch a couple days a week during a job so she can go home and let her dog out? Or, is someone requesting to switch to a new shift because his spouse has a new work schedule? These kinds of minor requests should be taken into consideration if they are feasible.
Even when a request needs to be denied for valid reasons, managers can offer to work with employees to find an alternate solution. Additionally, they can offer opportunities for employees to request changes to the way work is scheduled as a whole by scheduling meetings or providing an avenue for feedback. Acknowledging concerns and taking them seriously helps prevent burnout by demonstrating the company values its employees’ personal time.
Provide employee assistance programs
To directly combat burnout and promote mental well-being, companies can offer resources like family counseling and mental health care, whether they are included with company health plans or provided as a separate service. These benefits help companies attract new workers and give current employees a way to access professional assistance.
Ask for feedback
Managers should actively seek out feedback specifically related to company culture and the amount of stress their employees experience to cut back on burnout and encourage employees to stay productive. They can do so through meetings, messaging threads, a dedicated inbox, quarterly and yearly reviews, or other channels.
It’s important to provide multiple opportunities for employees to share comments or ask questions both publicly and privately, as some employees may feel more comfortable in a group setting, while others would prefer to express their concerns anonymously.
Employees who work within these processes each day will have valuable insight for continuous improvement. Good managers will take that feedback and make real changes to policies and processes.