A colleague and fellow young engineer made the comment recently that the FUN was gone in construction, and I could feel the absolute devastation within him as he expressed this…
[Perhaps ‘fun’, in this instance, is a three letter word that encapsulates far more than a momentary emotional high – but rather pertains to one’s sense of Purpose and a Love for what we each bring to our work and the spin-offs of these qualities onto others.]
Reflecting on his comment I recall my progression through my career:
The first few years post university were jam-packed days of constant learning, being out on site in the fresh air, the smell of wet concrete or the burning flux at the end of the welding rod; excited by the challenges of making money for the company, coming up with ways of improving tasks to increase productivity; and of course the sense of achievement at standing back and admiring the completed project..
Then it reached a point where promotion through the ranks meant more time in the office, filling out paperwork, reduced to analysing and manipulating figures – pricing new jobs, budgets, forecasts, reports, office politics…..
In those early years it was all about people, meeting people, learning from people, working with people, inspiring people.
I recall being on site with 100 men all singing in unison as they worked in a line digging trenches for water pipelines (men working for a meagre minimum wage) – I clearly recall the stillness (timelessness) of those moments, everyone and everything in harmony and flow.
At that juncture in my career where people became a number, just a statistic, an employee reference code in the system; where project successes were measured and reduced to analysis of the figures – that’s about the point I reflect on where FUN no longer filled my vocabulary when I referred to work.
And I observe this time and again, no matter the size of the organisation, the nature of the business – that people are being reduced to figures – and I observe the young graduate engineers of today being chained to a desk, swamped by numbers and paperwork – no time for fresh air..
We’re working in a ‘civilised’ world of numbers - driven by technology that demand more figures, endless data input for analysis – basically mountainous paperwork piled on every desk and in every inbox.
Perhaps the computer that was designed to function solely by numbers (it all comes down to their binary codes of 0’s or 1’s) gets a ‘kick’ out of the task at hand, but for us humans – reducing our interaction and relationships with one another to focus on figures and graphs and reports, deadlines and milestones, for me certainly has not been much FUN, on reflection.
So why are we driven in construction, in business in general, to reduce people to a percentage or statistic – why have we forsaken the qualities of the human being – of allowing a quality that has us singing in unison while we work, rather than boxed by the confines of the systems we've created – and at what point in our lineage did we forget the end user of the project being built.
We’re building bridges and roads, buildings and water towers, airports and hospitals – surely not for the sake of some investor's bank account or shareholder’s report – but for the people these all serve.
Why do we get so caught up in the numbers, that people don’t enter the equation – I see it all the time, everywhere, we’re chasing budgets and profits, impossible deadlines, swamped in mountainous paperwork… Is it any wonder that the construction industry is reeling with the realisations that mental health matters are spreading through the ranks like wild-fire?
And what is the quality imprinted in the end product with all this purpose-less, love-less energy inter-twined between the sand and cement, steel and paintwork – what imprint and legacy are we leaving for the next generation…
Don’t get me wrong, in the business of engineering and others, formulas and equations play a vital role, budgets and forecasts and reports are necessary – but until we return to a place where engineers and managers rejoice in the office block at the sounds of the workforce singing in unison outside while we work as one; the scorecard will read NAUGHT out of ten for achieving true Purpose, and ZERO will be the extent of True energetic quality that holds the project and end user…
Having fun at work must surely be directly related to our well-being, both physical and mental – so why don’t we make the construction game all about people first, last and in-between….