Digital Builder Ep 71: Psychological Safety’s Critical Role in Construction

One of the best ways to understand how we're doing as an industry is to connect with individuals who develop and oversee standards in the construction sector. Organizations that create and uphold industry benchmarks and guidelines are uniquely positioned to speak about how our sector is doing because they have a holistic view of how standards are being implemented. They also see firsthand what works and what doesn't.

That's why we're excited to have Amit Oberoi, the Executive Chairman of the Considerate Contractors Scheme (CCS), on the show this week. As head of the CCS, Amit helps shape and implement guidelines that promote ethical, safe, and efficient practices in construction to elevate the industry.

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On this episode

We discuss:

  • The things that make the construction industry special. 
  • The struggles that teams face, particularly when it comes to mental health.  
  • How leaders and individuals alike can remove the stigma for mental health conversations and encourage construction folks to take better care of themselves—and each other. 

How CCS works with the industry

CCS supports and uplifts the construction industry in several concrete ways. It starts with the organization's code of considerate practice, which covers three areas: community and social value, the environment, and workforce management. 

"We've got those three areas, and we've got a question set that our assessors—or 'monitors' as we like to call them—use to actively engage with the sites," explains Amit.

These monitors then help educate folks on the job sites (e.g., superintendents, managers, foremen, etc.) on how to improve. 

Another big part of CCS' approach is to score different firms depending on how well they meet the above standards. 

"We could say, 'Hey, you're doing this well, but you can do this better.' Or, 'Well done. You've just scored 45 out of 45. We really want to broadcast that to the wider network.'"

"I would say it's a lot of giving people the kudos for doing the right thing and helping others find out why they're not there. Is it education? Is it awareness? Is it a lack of resourcing? What is the issue? It's about bringing everybody up to the right required standard," he adds.

What the construction industry is doing well

As an industry, we have a lot of things going for us, says Amit. One important strength is that the construction sector constantly encourages creative thinking and problem-solving. 

"The ladies and gentlemen working in the industry are smart. It's the only industry I can think of where you have people with a low skill set and people with a high skill set solving complex problems. And I'm just amazed by that every day." 

He continues, "It's an industry where you're coming up with creative workarounds because that's what you do. You're thinking on your feet constantly."

Finally, there's digital transformation. Gone are the days of construction folks lagging behind tech developments. Amit points out that construction firms have done a great job "keeping abreast with digital implementation and looking at ways they can do things digitally."

"Whether it's digital twins, BIM, software solutions, or digital compliance... I would say these are some of the initiatives organizations are doing quite well. So they aren't laggards anymore."

Where construction pros are struggling

As much as the industry excels in various areas, Amit also has some concerns, particularly regarding mental health.

"Unfortunately, there's lots of talk about suicide that's happening in the industry. Some people are burning out or leaving the industry because of mental health struggles."

Amit acknowledges that while the construction industry is inclusive and accepting of people from all backgrounds, there may have been failures in recognizing and addressing the pressures and mental health needs of its workforce. 

To that end, he emphasizes the urgency of moving beyond just talking about these issues to actively helping and supporting people within the industry.

What can we do to support our teams and colleagues better?

How exactly can construction leaders better support the mental health of their teams? Amit shares actionable recommendations that can be implemented at the leadership and individual levels. 

Incorporating psychological safety into your culture

One strategy is for leaders to create a culture that promotes psychological safety, where people feel safe to speak up if they disagree or simply want a more open dialogue. 

"Do you have an open culture where if something doesn't look or feel right, you have the mechanisms so people can put up their hand?"

He continues, "The companies that do this well have a different feel in their culture. Even walking on a site, you can feel that morale is different, and you just know it."

Promote visible leadership

Construction can have a tremendous, positive impact on their teams. Amit points out, "The workforce looks up to their senior leaders."

That's why having leaders walk the job site and engage with teams—through casual conversations and regular check-ins—can make a massive difference. 

Having these touchpoints also helps leaders gather data and uncover areas for improvement. 

"I'm big on data," says Amit. "What's working well here? Why is this team working well, but they didn't work so well when we changed them and put them in a different place? Was it because they were working away from home for extended periods? Was it because they had to drive a long distance to get there?"

Asking these kinds of questions, he says, helps in understanding the unique challenges faced by different teams and addressing them effectively.

Last but certainly not least is showing compassion for individual team members and paying attention to how they're doing. Is a particular worker looking a bit off? Finding ways to support them can significantly improve their well-being.

"Being a compassionate person will make massive inroads to helping with this whole mental health discussion," remarks Amit. 

Preventing burnout at the individual level

As for advice to individuals who want to prevent or overcome burnout, Amit says it all starts with recognizing that "health is your wealth."

"It's the only thing you truly own. And you need to prioritize your own health."

He adds that individuals should build their internal resilience and approach their managers if they're struggling. Taking time off—and genuinely switching off—is critical to maintaining your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. 

It's also important to remember that taking care of your health is something you should do early and consistently. 

As Amit puts it, "Spot the signs early, take a step back, and understand that you're part of a bigger picture here. You can't work 24 hours a day. You need to have a bit of downtime and be flexible with yourself as well. But also, what's your nutrition? Are you getting some exercise? We all know it's a busy environment but be sure to carve some time out for yourself, and you'll feel a lot better."

Let's strive to be better advocates for construction

The construction industry has its share of big wins and challenges; but ultimately, the best way to succeed is to continue advocating for our workforce and industry.

Amit says this is something we can all do a better job of. 

"Construction is a great industry. You make lifelong friends; you're solving complex problems. You've got great camaraderie. We're becoming more diverse. There are hundreds of examples of great things going on, but we never, ever showcase it."

So, while it's tempting to immediately move on from one project to the next, Amit says it pays to take a step back, celebrate your accomplishments, and show them to the community. 

"You're not going to attract the next generation to come in because they'll never have seen what you did," he points out. 

"Yes, we have areas we need to improve like any industry, but you can have a career for life here and advance. And you can create amazing buildings and infrastructure and all sorts of things that leave a great impact."

New episodes every week

Digital Builder is hosted by me, Eric Thomas. Remember, new episodes of Digital Builder go live every week. Learn more about Amit and the excellent work he's doing at Considerate Constructors Scheme by catching the full episode of the podcast.

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Eric Thomas

Eric is a Sr. Multimedia Content Marketing Manager at Autodesk and hosts the Digital Builder podcast. He has worked in the construction industry for over a decade at top ENR General Contractors and AEC technology companies. Eric has worked for Autodesk for nearly 5 years and joined the company via the PlanGrid acquisition. He has held numerous marketing roles at Autodesk including managing global industry research projects and other content marketing programs. Today Eric focuses on multimedia programs with an emphasis on video.