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Please read the AEC industry articles below.

Emotional Intelligence and Stress, Burnout and Life Balance Keeping an Eye on Your Bottom Line


by Brent Darnell

Brent Darnell International


The construction industry has always been stressful, but according to a recent global study compiled by the International Metal Worker’s Federation, stress and burnout are on the rise around the world.


Our workers are being asked to do more with less. The physical and mental demands are tremendous.


Many employees are working 60, 80, even 100 hour weeks, sometimes for extended periods of time.


We believe that the answer to this stress and burnout problem lies in something called emotional intelligence.


What is emotional intelligence?


One simple definition is “social competence” or the ability to deal with people.


We use an instrument called the Bar-On EQi that measures emotional intelligence or “EQ”.


After seeing hundreds of these EQ profiles for construction folks, a definite pattern emerged. Although everyone is an individual, every group with whom we worked had virtually the same profile.














Note the relatively high assertiveness, independence, self regard, and the relatively low emotional self awareness and interpersonal skills across the board (low empathy, low social responsibility, which means they don’t work well in groups, and low interpersonal relationship skills).


They also tend to have relatively high stress tolerance and relatively low impulse control.


This is a chaos profile where the management style is mainly reactive.


They tend to go from one crisis to the next.


Also, this group tends to score high in reality testing, which means that they are neither overly optimistic nor pessimistic about any given situation.


They tend to see things in black and white. In addition, the happiness and self actualization scores for this group tend to be relatively low.


That speaks volumes about the industry today.


Many believe that it just isn’t as fun as it used to be.


With this typical profile, most construction managers tend to be perceived as aggressive, independent and capable.


But they may also come across as people who don’t listen, who don’t ask for other’s input or opinion, or involve others in the decision making process.


They tend to be blunt and undiplomatic.


They tend to have a hard time delegating and a tendency to micromanage.


They also tend to spend little time on developing themselves or others.


Also note that without the strong interpersonal skills to balance competencies like assertiveness, independence, and self regard, these strengths can become weaknesses.


Someone with high assertiveness can become aggressive, someone with high independence can become a loner who doesn’t interact with others, and someone with high self regard can become arrogant.


We believe that this typical emotional intelligence profile for construction folks is at the heart of stress, burnout and life balance issues.


We can tell from the results of the EQi if the person is approaching burnout.


The typical burnout profile is low stress tolerance, low self actualization, low happiness and optimism.


By addressing these fundamental emotional intelligence issues, we can be that much closer to lasting solutions instead of the usual quick fixes that have failed.


Take a look at some of the people who have been in the industry a while.


Many of them look older than they are, and appear beaten down and worn out.


Frequently, these workers develop stress related diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.


Many use nicotine and caffeine in the morning to get started and alcohol at night to calm down.


Many use both prescription and over the counter medications to control the symptoms of stress such as headaches, stomach problems, allergies, pain, fatigue, difficulty sleeping and irritability.


Most avoid addressing the underlying stress, which is the root cause of many of these problems. 


Many companies are beginning to wake up to this reality and address this issue.


Using emotional intelligence, we can measure stress and burnout by measuring such traits as stress tolerance, self actualization, happiness and optimism.


That way, we can determine if stress and burnout are problems and address them before they manifest themselves in the form of sickness, low productivity, absenteeism, and disease.


According to Daniel Goleman, a leader in the emotional intelligence field, stress can be a killer, especially for those who have heart disease, the number one killer in this country.


“Distressing feelings – sadness, frustration, anger, tension, intense anxiety – double the risk that someone with heart disease may experience a dangerous decrease in blood flow to the heart within hours of having these feelings.


Such decrease can trigger a heart attack.” (Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Bantam Books, 1998).


There is mounting evidence of this link between stress and general health.


According to the World Health Organization, 80–90% of illnesses are either caused by or made worse by stress.


The United States is the only industrialized nation on earth without a paid leave law.


It’s no coincidence that we are also the most stressed nation on earth. In the United States, we simply don’t have enough down time.


Compared to other countries, our holidays and vacation days are ridiculously low.


Most workers in other countries have a minimum of five weeks vacation, some have as many as nine.


Even the Chinese have a law requiring employers to give their employees a minimum of three weeks of paid vacation.


This may sound ludicrous to all of us hard working, take no prisoners Americans.


I’ve known several construction folks who wear their lack of vacation as a badge of honor.


They boast, “I haven’t had a vacation in ten years.”


But what is the cost?


We are a becoming a nation of stressed out people with autoimmune maladies, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.


In the United States, we spend over $150 billion per year on prescription drugs.


Per capita spending on healthcare, which is nearly $4,500 per person, is the highest in the world (World Almanac 2004).


Many of these drugs alleviate the symptoms of stress related illnesses.


Recent studies also indicate that there may be a link between stress and obesity, an emerging health issue in the United States.


We must change the way we think about our time off or face these dire health consequences.


Europeans we interviewed said that they need at least three weeks vacation because during the first and last weeks, they are thinking about work.


With three or more weeks of vacation, they are able to have at least one week of total decompression.


We just can’t get there with a mere two weeks per year.


We usually take those two weeks in installments of three and four day weekends.


It just isn’t enough. With these diminished vacation times, we very rarely reach that state of decompression.


According to Joe Robinson, author of Work to Live: The Guide to Getting a Life (The Berkley Publishing Group, 2003), a yearly vacation was found to reduce the risk of heart attack by 30% in men and 50% in women.


What if companies started offering more vacation time, more flex time, and more ways for their employees to recover?


The costs would be minimal compared with the results.


Most people we interviewed said they would take a substantial cut in pay to be able to have more time off.


Just by investing a little bit into their people, companies would have happier, less stressed, more loyal, more productive employees.


Vacation is certainly one way to help deal with stress.


But the day to day stress issues should be dealt with head on by teaching managers how to recognize symptoms of stress in their bodies, how to reduce these stressors, and how to build in recovery activities to renew the body.


This focus and awareness on stress allows them to have better performance mentally and physically.


Another important issue is teaching managers how to create better life balance, which can actually make them perform better at work.


As one participant put it, “I have increased the balance in life, which has increased my efficiency at work.”


One very effective way to renew the body is by doing yoga and meditation.


During our courses, managers are taught these basic techniques as a way to reduce stress and create better focus.


This work with yoga and meditation is outside the comfort zones of most construction folks.


I remember the first day of a management development programs for a large, international contractor.


It was very early in the morning, and we were starting with basic yoga and meditation.


The room was empty except for some yoga mats.


I watched as these tough construction guys entered the room, walked back out to make sure that it was the right room, then reluctantly came back in.


The more we study the brain, the more we see the connection between the mind and body.


When we reduce stress, we reduce cortisol, a hormone that is secreted during the “fight or flight” response.


Without it, we are able to think more clearly and solve problems more readily.


We are able to be in a concept called “flow”, where body and mind are in harmony with each other and both work as efficiently as possible.


We have fewer sick days and more stamina.


Study after study confirms what we already know to be true.


If we are sharp mentally, we function better physically and vice versa.


Reducing stress through meditation has also been shown to increase the immune response and improve the body’s healing process.


There are several benefits from doing yoga and meditation in conjunction with this emotional intelligence work.


The first benefit is that most of these managers are stressed out, and yoga and meditation helps them to reduce these stress levels.


Over one third of the managers who have been exposed to yoga and meditation in our courses have continued with these practices afterwards because of their tremendous benefits.


As one program participant said, “Currently my job situation is extremely hectic (again) and I have had some problems sleeping.


Last night, however, I was able to calm down and relax using your meditation CD.”


As another participant put it this way, “Without question, the most helpful skill which I have implemented from my emotional intelligence training is how to better handle and reduce stress. By better controlling stress, I have seen positive results both at work and in my private life.”


The second benefit of yoga and meditation relates to the emotional intelligence learning process.


Because we are essentially rewiring the brain, creating new neural pathways, the yoga and mediation techniques enhance this learning process.


We use visualization techniques to improve emotional competencies.


This visualization, focus, and reflection time is a major factor in rewiring the brain and creating behavioral change.


Yoga and meditation certainly isn’t for everyone, but we encourage participants to find “their” yoga.


For some it is a sport such as golf, hunting, fishing, sailing, or some kind of hobby or recreational pursuit.


It may be exercise or spending time with their family.


The important part is building in that reflection time and down time where work is no longer the focus. 


This high level of stress and burnout relates to other problem areas.


Stress decreases productivity.


As one program participant said afterward, “One example of the benefit [of stress management] for me is that I used to take painkillers (aspirin, Tylenol) regularly for frequent stress – related headaches. Now I have learned to deal with the root cause of the headaches, and I rarely take painkillers unless I am really ill.”


By addressing the underlying cause of these headaches, this manager is now less stressed and more productive.


Burnout also contributes to high turnover rates.


Employees may leave their jobs in order to reduce their stress.


Stressed workers also tend to make more mistakes, which can negatively affect safety.


Companies are starting to realize the importance of addressing these health issues for their workers not only to make their workers more productive, but to curb high healthcare costs.


In an article titled “Wellness Program Cures Rising Health Care Costs” (Engineering News Record, July 19, 2004), Cianbro Corporation, a large heavy civil and industrial contractor, addressed rising healthcare costs head on.


In 2001, they paid $11.5 million in healthcare costs, but these costs were projected to reach $20 million by 2004.


So, in 2001, they started a voluntary wellness program for their employees.


They reduced the percentage of smokers from 46% to 20%.


34% of their employees are exercising on a regular basis, and there has been a 20% reduction in hypertension and a 25% reduction in high cholesterol.


Since 2001, instead of almost doubling, their healthcare costs have remained flat.


They conservatively estimate that they get a $3.50 return per every dollar they invest in the wellness program, and this money goes straight to the bottom line.


We must begin to recognize what stress is doing to our employees.


We must evaluate them and take concrete steps to address this insidious thing called burnout.


If we ignore our employee’s stress, it will eat away our companies from the inside.


But if we create healthy workplaces, our employees will thrive and be productive and the results will be reflected in our bottom line.

To learn more about how to incorporate Emotional Intelligence into your company, I invite you to visit the rest of my website for more information.

10 Ways to Cultivate Innovation in Your Company


by Brent Darnell

Brent Darnell International

Many of the following concepts may strike you as a bit outrageous, but many of them also are not new.


They come from companies that do these things already.


Perhaps there are ways to adapt these ideas to the engineering and construction industry and your business.


1. Make every employee do anything other than work for one hour a day.


It can be anything from surfing the web to rollerblading.


This gives them some downtime and clears their head for thinking in innovative ways.


Employees will be more creative, less stressed and more satisfied.


2. Put in nap/recharge rooms so employees can restore themselves throughout the day.


Study after study shows this improves the bottom line and employees’ health.


3. Let employees bring pets or children to work.


This decreases stress and can increase employees’ time at work.


4. Create a results-oriented work environment.


Let employees set their own work hours and self-direct what they want to work on.


Management can set work goals, but not tell employees how or when they need to be done.


Depending on the position and the project, there are many days where employees could work from anywhere.


5. Collaborate with each other (industry-wide, even with competitors) on best practices for marketing, purchasing, procurement and delivery.


Help each other and share the rewards.


6. Find as many ways as possible to create a positive emotional experience internally and externally.


Laugh. Do office chair races or play games.


Employees should have fun every single day.


7. Take a risk.


The risk-averse nature of the engineering and construction industry stifles creativity and innovation.


Reward innovation, cultivate it and revel in it.


Don’t condemn ideas that didn’t work; just move on to the next one.


Edison found 999 ways that a light bulb didn’t work before he came up with one that did.


8. Give employees as much time off as humanly possible during the work week and for vacation where they don’t have to check in.


This is vital for your employees to recharge their health and well-being, as well as their longevity.


9. Spread love inside and outside of the company.


Work doesn’t always have to be serious.


10. Re-brand the company and fill it with spirit.


The brand of most contractors and engineers says trustworthy, reliable, stable, ethical and probably a list of other very nice words.


But these words are a bit stuffy.


Look at most commercials on television for a variety of products and services.


All of them are filled with positive emotions: Coke: Open Happiness. Love: It’s what makes a Subaru a Subaru. Harley Davidson doesn’t sell motorcycles; they sell freedom and independence.


Engineering and construction has really missed the boat.


The company that figures out how to brand itself with fun, love, humor, innovation and creativity will rise above the competition.

If you are at the DBIA Conference please come join me Thursday morning at the general session.


Also please visit booth #411 for more information on how to improve your bottom line results by making your people and your projects the best they can be.


And lastly, I invite you to visit the rest of my website for more information.

The Business Case for Diversity and Inclusion

by Brent Darnell

Brent Darnell International


The long-standing issue of diversity and inclusion is reaching a tipping point.


I have attended many industry events lately, and the demographics are a little frightening.


As wonderful as our industry is, these events are filled with mostly middle-aged, white men.


If I were a woman or a minority, I would take one look at the demographic and run away like my hair was on fire.


We all know that women and minority participation in construction is quite low, and the effort to be more inclusive to women and minorities is limited at best.


There are several reasons for this: the lack of role models for women and minorities, wage disparity, the entrenched culture of the industry, and a lack of mutual understanding and connection among all these groups.


The under representation of women and minorities in the industry is a symptom of a far deeper issue.


Evidence suggests the industry does not value diversity and is not very inclusive.


It is time to start a meaningful dialogue to create some traction toward a resolution.


And I’m not proposing coercing companies to hire more women and minorities.


Instead, the place to begin is one where we engage women and minorities in exploring solutions to this issue.


It is time for everyone to dig deeply and focus on the issue. It is time for all sides to commit to a proactive approach with compromise and cooperation in mind.


It is time that we meet in the middle to utilize a wonderfully diverse workforce to create better projects and better business results.


There is some progress: Several companies and industry organizations are reaching out to young people, women, and minorities through a variety of workforce development initiatives.


The ACE Mentoring Program targets youngsters, including women and minorities, and promotes the construction industry as a viable career.


Since this is a more long-term solution, we must be more aggressive in our approach in order to realize some short-term results.


If all industry organizations and companies would commit to some very simple initiatives, we could improve diversity and inclusion dramatically in a relatively short time:


Provide Education and Information


Reach out to the many women and minority organizations throughout the construction industry and court them.


Let them know that they are welcome.


Invite their members to the currently white, male-dominated events and give them the spotlight. Create an open dialogue.


We need to learn more about each other, and the best way to do that is to get everyone in the same room.


This will help to shift the industry image from one of exclusion to one of inclusion.


Provide Meaningful Training for the White Guys


I don’t mean “diversity” training or “sensitivity” training.


These tend to only provide the legal requirements to keep from being sued.


I’m talking about training that creates true understanding and trust.


We need to explode stereotypes and preconceptions and create an atmosphere of cooperation, trust, and comfort.


Provide Meaningful Training for Women and Minorities

Give them the tools they need to navigate this maze of white males.


These skills are teachable and learnable, but we must create programs that teach these skills to maximize the success of women and minorities.


Provide Role Models through Recruitment and Retention

Recruiting more women and minorities into the construction industry provides role models.


Seeing other women and minorities within the industry helps promote a sense of belonging and inclusion.


There is a very real business case for these inclusion initiatives:


1. Diverse people with diverse thinking leads to creative and innovative ideas and better solutions to industry problems.


We need the talent and perspective of minorities and women to move forward.


2. If you look at sheer numbers, when more women and minorities enter the industry, it will greatly help our current workforce crisis.


3. The industry is gravitating toward more collaborative ways of project delivery such as IPD and Lean, and, according to my research on the typical emotional profiles for men and women in the industry, women are often better at collaboration than men.


Most women score relatively high in social responsibility (the ability to work in teams), empathy, and interpersonal relationships. Most men score relatively high in self-regard, independence, and assertiveness.


4. In an article in Engineering News-Record (Nov. 15, 2010), a research company found that “companies with more women board members significantly outperformed those with fewer female directors in return on equity, return on sales, and return on invested capital.”


This article was written more than five years ago, and it seems we have made little progress with regard to promoting more women leaders.


Many construction guys insist that they “don’t mind” women and minorities in construction.


This attitude is simply not enough.


We must take proactive steps, start this dialogue, create a more inclusive industry and actively pursue professional involvement from women and minorities.


We need them to move our industry forward.


We need them to help transform the industry into one that is more sustainable, more successful, and more profitable.


If we don’t make this effort and women and minorities continue to stay away from construction, we may be in big trouble.


If we do invest in this effort, together, perhaps we can solve the larger issue of inclusion.

If you are at the DBIA Conference, come by my keynote Thursday morning.


Also please visit booth #411 for more information on how to improve your bottom line results by making your people and your projects the best they can be.


And lastly, I invite you to visit the rest of my website for more information.

Why Many of Your Projects Suck and How to Un-Suck Them

by Brent Darnell

Brent Darnell International

Why your projects are so difficult and how they can be easier.

Tracey Kidder said, "Building is the quintessential act of civilization."  Think about it.


If three people washed up on a deserted island, the first thing they would do is collaboratively build a shelter.


Unless, of course, the three people were an architect, owner's rep, and contractor.


Then, they would have to wait for two lawyers to wash up on the beach so that they could proceed with the project.

There is a project that I read about recently where the parties involved hated each other.


I don't say that lightly.


You can tell from their comments that they truly loathed and despised each other.


The contractor was removed from the project and the legal battle was just beginning.


How did this project get to this point?


Could the parties involved have seen this coming?


How did they begin the project, and more importantly, what can you do on your projects to avoid such a fate?

Our current process for most projects borders on insanity, especially when it comes to our people.


We put our people in a pressure cooker with massive risk and millions of dollars at stake.


This work environment requires tremendous mental and physical demands, high levels of collaboration and technical proficiency, and sustained peak levels of performance mentally, physically, and emotionally.


And yet, we rarely address these vital issues.


Our people usually eat poorly, work long hours, don’t exercise regularly, don’t manage their stress, and don’t get enough sleep.


Their days are usually filled with negative emotions, anger, and frustration.


And the design-bid-build model is still prevalent, resulting in conflicts and silos, arguments and lawsuits.


Think if professional sports teams used this model.


There would be no coaches or trainers.


We would just randomly select a group of folks with poor lifestyle choices, have no practice, no ongoing development or training, very little collaborative strategy, and show up Sunday to play the New England Patriots.

But the industry is rapidly changing.


There are more and more projects that use collaborative models and methods.


Design Build, Design Assist, IPD, and Last Planner with Lean principles to name a few.


This shift requires a different set of skills for your people so that they can thrive on these collaborative projects.


Technical excellence is no longer enough.


They must also have high levels of emotional intelligence and great people skills.


They must also pay attention to their mental, physical, and emotional performance.


I have been teaching the critical people skills and emotional intelligence to the AEC industry since 2000.


In fact, ENR named me the Top 25 Newsmaker in 2012 for “transforming alpha males into service focused leaders”.


I have accumulated a lot of data and developed proven methods that make people, projects, and teams more successful.


Here is a recap on how to create high performing teams and great projects:


1. Start with your people. They should always come first. 


2. Provide all stakeholders with the resources they need to operate at their peak level of mental, physical and emotional performance focusing on stress management and time management.    


3. With as many stakeholders as possible, create metrics for the project performance that everyone can agree on.


4. With everyone working at their peak level of performance in combination with stellar people skills, deliberately build the team, trust and communication. Continually improve everyone’s skills by offering monthly meetings.


5. Monitor and continually improve project metrics and individual people metrics throughout the entire project.


If you are at the DBIA Conference, come by my keynote Thursday morning.


Also please visit booth #411 for more information on how to improve your bottom line results by making your people and your projects the best they can be.


And lastly, I invite you to visit the rest of my website for more information.

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