The importance of a better work life balance cannot be stressed enough with all the added pressure in today’s society. Learn how Lean supports a better and healthier work life balance with Lean expert Katherine Van Adzin as your guide.
How Lean Supports a Better Work Life Balance
When most people think of Lean, they think of increased efficiency, faster production, or earlier project completion. The emphasis is on doing more while eliminating waste and boosting quality. But what’s often lost in the discussion is the idea that these increases in production pace and quality don’t have to — and shouldn’t — come at the expense of your time. Done right, Lean should be giving you time back, and can be a powerful tool in carving out a healthier work-life balance for construction professionals.
Quality Over Quantity
The pressure to put in as many hours on site as it takes to get a project done has long been the norm in construction. The further a project strays from its planned schedule or budget, the higher the pressure is to get things back on track. While long hours have been seen as just part of the job for years, burning the candle at both ends doesn’t necessarily solve the problem.
Spending less time on site, but performing more efficiently during that time can be a more effective goal, says Joe Donarumo, senior superintendent at Linbeck and co-author of The Lean Builder. “I still find myself at the jobsite putting in the hours, definitely not working as many hours as I used to at the 70, 80 level, but I’ve also experienced that the work is better. It’s more rewarding.”
With better preparation and the use of Lean planning structures, “I’m able to elevate up and actually be able to spend my time — instead of putting out fires — I’m able to look ahead, I’m able to plan ahead. I’m looking at the documents. I’m looking at details. I’m seeing where we could potentially have some constraints in the future, and without Lean and those tools, I’m not. I’m in the ditch, I’m firefighting, so it’s allowed me to become a better superintendent and implement work at a better quality,” says Donarumo.
Visibility into problems that might arise is key. By identifying constraints earlier, solutions can be identified even before the problem has time to eat into the project’s schedule or budget.
Don’t Be Irreplaceable
One of the major factors behind construction’s grueling hours is the sense that work can’t be done without the involvement of certain individuals. Whether they’re the only ones who have crucial information, or they worry about relinquishing control over certain aspects of the work, being seen (or seeing yourself) as irreplaceable on site guarantees that you’ll be putting in long hours.
Counterintuitively, you can be more valuable to your team by ensuring that work can continue without you. By using Lean planning techniques like daily huddles and visual boards for information sharing, teams can ensure that critical information isn’t trapped in one person’s head. According to Craig Waelens, superintendent at O’Brien Construction Company, communication that facilitates shared ownership of the work is key.
“I like the constant communications about the projects, and the visual boards that you have out, as far as your Lean and your preparedness for what’s happening within not even just today, but weeks in advance. If you have to take personal time or go on vacation, it’s easy for someone to come in and just run your system that you’ve already laid out, and you can come right back to work and pick up that again and keep on going with it,” says Waelens.
By setting your team up to work effectively even without you there, you serve them better than you would by trying to be omnipresent on site.
The law of diminishing returns applies to construction professionals as much as it does to economics. Your 70th hour on site will not be as productive as your 38th (not to mention the safety implications of a chronically exhausted and stressed workforce).
“With the labor shortage, there’s so much business going right now that we’ve talked with our subs about providing enough labor so that everybody can get done at a normal time during the day, five o’clock or what have you, instead of working until dark and then the sub works from daylight to dark the next day, daylight to dark, and everybody’s just getting burnt out. It’s so difficult to try and get everybody to knock off and be done at a reasonable time in the evening,” says Chris Warner, superintendent at WEAVERCOOKE. “We just have to physically learn to turn the switch off in our minds, go home. Everything will be back on the job site tomorrow,” adds Warner.
Rich Hill, another superintendent at WEAVERCOOKE, agrees. “That 70 and 80 hours a week was the norm. Now, with WEAVERCOOKE and having the [Lean] principles in place that we do have, that has dramatically changed. 50 hours a week is pretty much where I’m at right now with the project that I’m currently on. Getting people to buy in to this and understand that potential for reducing the stress load and everything of that nature and having a better work-life balance, separating work from your personal life. This all plays into it, and once they realize that, they’re on board, and it works out for everybody.”
Sometimes a simple reminder can help in shifting habits. “Set an alarm at six o’clock, at the end of the day, to remind you get out of the office and get home to see your family. Budget time on weekends. I know a lot of us work weekends, Saturday, Sunday, when the job’s getting to the end, but really reserve those times on the calendar when you’ve got family time or vacations planned so that you can make time for that. There’s a lot of pride in working those 60- and 70-hour weeks, but you never make it to the end of a job without burnout if you do that,” says Nicholas Blaser, construction project manager at Jacobs.
It’s not an easy sell or an overnight fix, but taking concrete steps to rely more on communication and trust than on simply being there pays off.
“I constantly joke with my regional that I’m striving for part-time. That would be great,” says Hill.
This blog post is sponsored by BOSCH | RefinemySite.