Can a positive work culture exist in construction?


Yes. Yes it can and it does. Unfortunately, that is not the experience most people have in the construction industry.


In 2004, I was a Business Manager on a jobsite in Seattle when I started working in the construction industry. In this role, I was responsible for onboarding, payroll, accounts payable, cost controls, and weekly/monthly project reporting. I got to work with the craft, the superintendents, the project managers, and the executives for the project. Our team was building a light rail maintenance facility that was going to help change mass transportation in the Seattle area. Sounds amazing, right!?!


Not at all. That project sucked the life out of me and nearly everyone assigned to it. There were actually two projects, each led by different teams. Both projects were behind schedule and losing money, and the relationship with the client was less than stellar (yes, that is me putting it very mildly). Those team members that stayed with the company after project completion were ecstatic to be off of the job and wore the assignment as a badge of honor.


Looking back, how great would it have been if leadership had prioritized the well-being of its employees through all of the trials and tribulations that the project team faced, and had built a culture of mutual respect, trust, empathy, and support. Wow - what a difference that could have made!


Those involved on the project can all agree that experience sucked. You may have similar stories of your own terrible projects, and ones you had to slog through to make it out alive...


But how about those great projects... or teams!?! The ones where you rallied together, not only spent time with each, but cared for each other. When you knew you could trust your colleague and your manager to have your back if you made a mistake.


Within the construction industry, more often than not these positive work cultures exist at the project level. It is easier to build that sense of mutual well-being with a smaller team. But it doesn't have to stop there. At the moment, I am working with an organization based in Portland, Oregon that has imbedded, and continues to foster its positive work culture for the nearly 75 years that it has been in business. As I get to know its employees (whether they have been there for two months or thirty years), ALL of them share the feeling that the organization truly cares about its people. As the organization is on the cusp of growth, preserving this culture is tantamount to its success.


So what is the organization's secret sauce you ask? ...that is a little tougher to nail down, but let me share three things they do that is working for them:

  1. They foster social connections. This is through holiday parties, picnics, golf outings, bi-weekly happy hours, movie nights, sporting events... the list keeps going. They do this at all levels of the organization - the jobsites, the offices, and for the organization as a whole. Building in time for their folks to connect is a part of every gathering and sometimes the only part.

  2. They don't blame. When things go a bit awry, as they always do, they do not have a culture of blame and shame. Rather, it is a culture of acceptance. It sounds something like, "okay, so that happened, now what are we going to do about it? And how do we prevent it from happening again?"

  3. They put their employees first. As they think through organization growth, a new benefits program, or a client to work with, they think through the lens of the employees. They ask themselves is it in their best interest? If not, they won't do it. Simple as that.

As you think about your team, your project, and your organization, how can you amp up the positivity within the culture?


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