Updated: Nov 8
I wrote this article for Colorado Construction and Design Magazine's Winter/Spring 2023 Issue on an event hosted by a manufacturer/subcontractor who provided a Wellness Hour instead of our typical Lunch-and-Learns to help support our fellow architects with their mental health. It was a fantastic example of what can happen when we come together and support one another in improving constructions mental health crisis.
Thank you, Polly Ayres, for publishing such an important piece about Creating Relationships and Partnerships to Solve Larger Industry Problems.
Thank you, Northern Colorado Construction Sector Partnership, Phillip Walker, Lisa Marini, and Liz LoSasso, for building such an impactful partnership and event to start tackling such a large industry challenge.
"It's our problem. It isn't anyone else's responsibility or job to tackle this. No one is coming to our rescue, and the solution cannot be outsourced. Believe it or not, we are most qualified to propose solutions to this problem because we best know the affected people; our project teams, our colleagues, and our trade partners. We hold the most trust, time, and respect with these individuals. Relationships built over decades cannot be replicated outside our industry, and it wouldn't be prudent to underestimate or discount this critical ingredient in addressing this crisis." Well Works
Creating Relationships and Partnerships to Solve Larger Industry Problems
Written by Amy Powell
Co-Chair of the Northern Colorado Construction Sector Partnership
Owner and Founder of Well Works, Training Built for Construction.
In true construction fashion, I will get straight to the point. The construction industry has the 2nd highest suicide rate of any other occupational group in the U.S. (Peterson et al., 2020). The lack of awareness around these statistics is not limited to those working outside the industry. In discussions with individuals within the industry, it is not the stress and suicidal thoughts that are surprising as much as it is the realization that many of our trade partners struggle with similar challenges.
We are an industry filled with phenomenal problem-solvers; we aren't the ones to sit around and mull over said problems until they disappear or go away. We do something. We collaborate, unite and build. Sometimes we fail, but then we evaluate, respond, adjust and try again until we succeed. We get stuff done! But mental health, this massive, industry-wide problem, can feel as though it is out of our powerhouse of hands-on, tangible, and measurable problems we are used to tackling. This extensive problem can be intimidating and seemingly immeasurable, which makes it easier to procrastinate or to lean on someone else to solve, resolve or tackle.
But herein lies the problem. It's our problem. It isn't anyone else's responsibility or job to tackle this.
No one is coming to our rescue, and the solution cannot be outsourced. Believe it or not, we are most qualified to propose solutions to this problem because we best know the affected people; our project teams, our colleagues, and our trade partners. We hold the most trust, time, and respect with these individuals. Relationships built over decades cannot be replicated outside our industry, and it wouldn't be prudent to underestimate or discount this critical ingredient in addressing this crisis. Awareness is the first step in solving any problem. As an industry, we have done a great job creating this awareness over the past years through publications, podcasts, and sobering stories plastered all over social media. We are now at the point where we need to accept the problem and take steps as an industry to try and solve it.
One of our fellow local trade partners has recently been doing just this. Wells, a local precast concrete manufacturer, and contractor, has recently implemented a radical new proposed solution within their company and extended this to their clients and trade partners. A wellness hour in place of a lunch-and-learn. Will it work? We have yet to determine, but the initial response and results are overwhelmingly positive and promising.
It All Started…
In August 2022, the Northern Colorado Construction Sector Partnership (NOCO CSP) board invited a previous construction superintendent turned brain-based coach, Lisa Marini, to present on the topic of mental health and stress relief to their members. Since its inception in November 2019, the partnership has focused on bringing together those who work with and within construction to tackle larger industry challenges and problems; mental health and suicide included. Being that experienced construction industry members lead this group, their approach was to try and provide a proposed solution instead of just presenting the problem to their fellow industry members. This message hit home to one individual, Phil Walker, Director of Business Development at Wells, who brought these resources back to try implementing them into his organization.
"It became very apparent that this is simply not optional," Walker expressed during a follow-up interview, "I care about the finite outcomes for our organization, but that's the byproduct. We are going to figure out the long game for our company and retention because we can't provide excellence to the marketplace if we're not taking care of the humans, period." So Marini was invited by Walker into Wells to present this content to everyone working in the factory and in the office, which, so far, has had a positive response.
Small Talk Spurring Big Change
In recognizing the impact this information and initiative has had within the organization, Walker started reframing his conversations with clients, "If not now, then when are we going to have these conversations with each other?" These deeper discussions and conversations spurred the idea and need to present and offer these conversations and resources to others within the industry. This was when Walker decided to approach Liz LoSasso, the Director of Human Resources at Davis Partnership Architects, about an opportunity for Wells to provide a Wellness Hour instead of a Lunch-and-Learn. It is a challenging topic to bring up and discuss within our industry. Still, LoSasso recognized a greater purpose in Walker's proposal, "A lot of what he said made sense to what he is doing to help his people that work for his company...He took it a step further and is now sharing that with some of their business partnerships who utilize their goods and services." From that discussion, a "Wells Wellness Hour" was officially scheduled for 4:00 pm on February 1, 2023.
A Case for Wellness Hours along with Lunch-And-Learns
"We had over 100 participants, both in person and virtually, tuning in… at a 4:00 event, you never know what you are going to get. For that many people to have prioritized that hour of time says a lot." LoSasso prefaced the impact by explaining that they "don't make any of these things mandatory for our office, and we also don't pay them to be there. People have to see enough value in it to take time out of their workday and let their workday trickle into their personal lives to make up for that time when they attend things like this."
LoSasso expressed that the impact was overwhelmingly positive, even weeks after the event, "Instead of what vendors typically do, which is just come, bring us lunch, and talk at us for an hour about why we should work with them. Wells brought this amazing expert that cares about them, and their mental health and wellbeing, and wanted to share that with them as a thank you for all of the business we did in the past, and we may do in the future."
All of Us Are a Part of the Solution
LoSasso eloquently and thoroughly summarizes the entire intent of this message to our industry:
"It is trying to help the whole industry…if the people building our projects that we are designing are not bringing their best selves to the factory or to the job site every day, our projects, our buildings, our designs are suffering from that. And visa-versa, if our architects are coming to the office or are in a bad place personally or professionally, those design outcomes will be affected by that. The plans might be affected by that. So it starts inward, but it spreads. And if we're ok, we're happy and engaged; we're going to take ownership more over what we do every day at work. We're going to care more about what we are putting out day in and day out if our organization cares about us. And that's going to affect the whole industry."
While we may not have the answer or the best solution to this massive challenge we face as an industry, we can still take small steps to try something, anything. It may be something that is difficult, that causes uncertainty, and heck, it may just not work sometimes, but what if it does?
Peterson, C., Sussell, A., Li, A, Schumacher, P., Yeoman, K. & Stone, D. (2020). Suicide Rates by Industry and Occuption – National Violent Death Reporting System, 32 States, 2016. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6903a1.htm
Learn More About Well Works Founder and Owner, Amy Powell by visiting our Website at: