It is difficult to challenge the notion that good employee morale and strong engagement is important in our industry. In fact, being “happy” may be critical to our customer service. We spend much of our time at work, have 24/7 on-call rotations, and serve people who have experienced disaster, so why not do it with joy? In Is Your Organization Happy?, you will find some considerations and tips about creating a “happy” environment.
Morale and engagement are complex and have many contributing factors. Procedures, best practices, training, etc. will have limited value to your company if the individuals and team lack positive morale and are not engaged. Although there is much we can do in our day to day for Employee Morale Year Round, consider the notion that morale and engagement are built on a foundation of trust.
Trust is a big word that has many elements, synonyms, and influences in a variety of aspects of our organizations and lives. At times, there may be relationships within the organization that have voids of trust. If trust issues become widespread and unresolved or there becomes a feeling of distrust towards the organization itself, it will be challenging to successfully employ any morale-building and engagement initiatives.
Imagine for a moment…
You are with a group of people you trust and are working together, collaborating, getting things done; you probably feel good and happy. If one of these people gives you a cookie and a note thanking you for a great job, it would make you feel good, happy, and encourage you to continue to contribute to objectives or the purpose.
You are with a group of people you do not trust. The mistrust could stem from a variety of reasons, behaviors, and experiences with the people in the group and/or you may not even be clear on what is causing the mistrust; it is possibly just a feeling. If one of these people give you a cookie and note thanking you for a great job, may feel like there is an alternative motive, suspicious, and may not even want to eat the cookie!
Same gesture, same note, but different impact based on trust.
A culture filled with fear and mistrust will be a culture with a disengaged and unhappy team. Feelings of fear and mistrust could be a great motivator when perhaps running from an angry bear but imagine going to work every day feeling this way.
Start with reading “Speed of Trust” by Stephen MR Covey. If you are pressed for time and want to fast track your organization and team, watch the video: The Speed of Trust – Stephen M.R Covey @LEAD Presented by HR.com. You will gain the ability to understand, articulate, evaluate, and build trust within your organization. He presents what he refers to as three big ideas:
Trust is an Economic Driver
Trust is the #1 Competency of Leadership
Trust is a Learnable Competency
Where does it all begin? According to Covey, it starts with leadership.
#1 Job of Leaders
In building morale and engagement in your company, start with the foundation, trust. A person who is expected to engage in the mission, values, and goals of an organization needs to trust the organization and the leadership. As Covey breaks down the elements of trust, he lists the following “behaviors”:
1. Talk Straight 2. Demonstrate Respect 3. Create Transparency 4. Right Wrongs 5. Show Loyalty 6. Deliver Results 7. Get Better 8. Confront Reality 9. Clarify Expectation 10. Practice Accountability 11. Listen First 12. Keep Commitments 13. Extend Trust
These behaviors are a great place to start if evaluating or building your foundation of a happy, healthy, and productive work environment. The men and women in our restoration companies are the most valuable and important assets. They deserve to feel good and happy at work.
Share topics and ideas that you would like to read in future Restoring Success editions.
This is the second article of a multi-part series on employee burnout in the restoration industry. Part one introduced the nature of burnout, and summarized findings from a study on burnout in the restoration industry. Part two begins a discussion on things restoration companies can do to manage one of the most complicating factors for burnout among restoration professionals – workload. Part three advances the conversation and discusses what restoration professionals can do at the individual level to manage workloads more effectively.
Nature of Workload for Restoration Companies
The nature of our industry has inherent demands and fluctuations that seem challenging to control. At any given point, a variety of circumstances from a catastrophic weather event to the loss of a staff member can have a dramatic effect on the workload of the company and the team members. It is safe to say that a career in restoration is not a 9 to 5, 40-hour per week job; however, in consideration of the findings of the burnout study, there is much to be gained by proactively managing the workloads of our team, our most valuable assets.
When we consider workload, we can look at it from two related perspectives: organizational and individual. Can solutions be found by balancing volume and capacity at both levels? In part one of this series, we will delve into some potential solutions that allow us to control volume and capacity at the company level followed by the second part, which will examine the balance at the individual level. It should be noted that these concepts are not exclusive to each other, but rather are inter-related strategies that can be considered in our efforts to reduce workload.
As we consider taking control of volume and capacity in our companies, there are added benefits of a few sound principles that apply to the effective management of our day to day operations. While avoiding the epidemic of burnout from affecting your team, we may be able to improve in our service to others and find sound economics and financial benefits.
Volume of Work
It may seem counterintuitive to control or decrease the volume of work coming into your company. You have strategized, invested, and have put great energy into having the phone ring and then we want to decrease it? At any given point, when your volume is exceeding your capacity, not only are we exposing the team to the threat of burnout, there is a risk of detrimental side effects to your reputation, customers, and quality of your services.
When do you know that it is time to dial it down in an industry where you could be inundated one week and waiting for the phone to ring the next week? There is not necessarily an exact science to this but rather an understanding of your capacity combined with intuition and being in tune with your team and organization.
In Eastern Pennsylvania, what started out as a steady summer, turned into an unrelenting series of individual localized flood events that continually moved around targeting and retargeting a localized area. The first of the flood events to wreak havoc presented itself in early July. The team worked diligently around the clock until everyone was taken care of in some way. Then another flood, and another flood, and another flood, with nothing but weather forecasts, there was no way to tell that the weather would cause extremely high volumes for over two months straight. After several weeks, it was time to dial it down for the good of the team and the quality of the services being delivered. There is no crystal ball in our business; therefore, we must be able and willing to pivot at any given point.
When volume is exceeding capacity, the following are a few strategies that may help control and reduce workload:
Evaluate and prepare to communicate realistic timelines that allow you a more manageable volume as a company.
Be honest and upfront to those you serve and make commitments based on reasonable workloads. Example: “Normally we are able to respond to emergencies within an hour. However, due to the high volumes of disasters in our region, we arescheduling emergency responses two days out.” If you are managing repair/reconstruction volume, give accurate and upfront timelines for repairs to begin.
Be prepared to help those who reach out to you. Refer other restoration companies who may be able to help sooner and/or give tips on how they can mitigate until you can respond.
Pausing / Controlling Streams:
Many in our industry have a variety of relationships and strategies that bring revenues to the organization. As an effort to control workload, the following is a sample of potential sources that can be temporarily paused or reduced:
Insurance programs: direct and TPA (third-party administrators)
Lead generation and referral programs
On-line initiatives and advertising
Other preferred vendor lists
The territory or area of coverage that your company covers may be something to evaluate when attempting to dial down the volume. Depending on circumstances and geography, reducing coverage area (even slightly) can have a reduction in volume that has an exponential effect on workload. As an example, if there are areas that you serve that require a 90 to 120-minute drive per day, you can potentially buy back three to four hours in drive time with a minimal effect on total revenues. At times, there may be good economics to this approach as drive distance can also have an effect on job profitability.
When we consider capacity, we are literally looking at the amount we can produce with our resources. Our resources can include but are not limited to human, equipment, vehicles, and facility. Depending on the timing, both internal and external forces can influence capacity. As we look at the environment today, unemployment is at a historic low, and this could be directly affecting your company’s capacity by making it challenging to hire and add to the team. During the polar vortex of 2014, due to the widespread effects of severely cold temperatures, equipment and supply inventories were affected.
In general, to be able to adjust and control capacity we need solid systems and operations in place that allow us to know what resources are available at any given moment. Consider that you have depleted your equipment inventory, perhaps you rented additional equipment and that is also depleted, one may plan and schedule based on the timing of equipment being pulled and available by using systems and tracking.
Our team also influences capacity as it applies to the human resources within our organization. By employing a similar approach in scheduling and managing our equipment, we must also add the leaderships’ empathy and intuitiveness for the team. The individuals who make up your team may have a vast array of skills, proficiencies, individual training, and circumstances that may also contribute to your overall company capacity.
As we consider some possible solutions to increasing your capacity as a company with a focus on our human resources, it can decrease the workloads on the individual team members. In addition, there is sound economics to some of the considerations that apply when operating at any given volume level.
The following strategies may be helpful when trying to expand capacity to reduce the workload on the individuals within the company:
Examine and find ways to decrease the workload by improving efficiencies.
Duplication of efforts
Employing technology when possible
Routing and movements in our field operations
“The way we always did it.” Be mindful of activity within workflows that may have little or no value to the organization and eliminate it.
Within the workflows there may be opportunities to reassign tasks to better utilize the individual’s special skills and improve their workload while increasing the capacity of the organization.
Expand your Resources:
Other Restoration Companies: Either referring other restoration companies or developing relationships to work together.
Subcontractors: Utilize your existing subcontractors and aggressively build new relationships.
Other Sources of Labor:
Employment agencies may be able to supply a variety of labor and support for your team. They may also be a resource to manage the HR and processing of seasonal and other type of employment opportunities that could help the team.
Be creative. For example, if there are local colleges in your area, you may be able to recruit college students to help monitoring water losses and other tasks which may prove to give some relief to your team on weekends and after hours. The college students could be run through the employment agency for your ease of management.
Specialty Resources: From accounting to estimating, there are a variety of specialty services, some that are even industry specific, that may be utilized at any given point in managing capacity.
Develop and Train:
Proficiency: Encourage and develop individual’s proficiency in their skills.
Organization Skills: Including but not limited to email management, time management, etc.
Leadership and Soft Skills: Imagine a great technician who was trained and developed in their leadership and management abilities. This technician can run a loss with two less experienced individuals allowing the opportunity to increase capacity.
Cross Train: Cross training individuals within the organization not only gives team members the opportunity to increase their value to the company; it also allows the company to be nimbler when managing fluctuations in volumes.
Process and Structure
An overarching imperative to being able to proactively manage volume and capacity is having strong day to day processes and structure. Strategic scheduling, workflows, procedures, and best practices provide the ability to have information and structure to pivot and adjust these as needed.
At any given time, we can adjust volume and capacity to help us manage workload. Managing the company workload will help the individual team members enjoy the reward of being a part of the restoration industry and avoid burnout.
Why does Santa check his list twice? If we consider the practice of checking the list twice, we could speculate that there is a drive towards excellence and a desire to deliver legendary service. The list needs to be accurate and thorough; the list allows him to honor his commitments efficiently, and list is what is used to make sure that nobody is disappointed; so, he checks it twice.
Mistakes happen! Sometimes things go wrong and it’s not even human error, it just happens. When something goes wrong and we apply root cause problem solving which unveils that if we had checked our work, we could have avoided the issue, perhaps, there is a simple solution. Can problems be reduced with a little checking? Yes!
As a casual observation, when work habits include self-checking and processes that account for double checking things, the result is fewer errors, mistakes, and problems. As an ability, we may call it conscientiousness. Considering that errors, mistakes, and problems can have a ripple of disastrous consequences in our restoration organizations; it is deserving of some attention.
Have you ever wondered how someone gave you a message with the wrong phone number? It is likely because the number was not read back to the person who gave it to them. This is an example of a very basic self-check that everyone should be trained to do in the organization. When someone gives an email and/or phone number, you always read it back to them to make sure you recorded the very important contact information perfectly. Being just one number off can make the difference between your ability to respond to a loss and/or honor the commitment to call a person back or not. It’s a big deal and can be proactively managed by the work habit to double check.
As I walked into work one morning, I complimented a coworker on the speed and quality he executed in the reconstruction of a bathroom that experienced a water loss. He thanked me and qualified his response by explaining that he needed to go back that morning. He explained that the tank of the toilet leaked, and it needed a few parts. He had removed and reset the toilet. Since I had been pondering about an individual’s work habits and the ability to self-check work, as well as the supporting processes in the organization, I began to question him.
“How did you know the toilet was not working properly?”
“I flushed it to make sure it was working after I re-installed it.”, he responded.
“Why did you do that?”
As he looked at me with some dismay at my line of questioning, I answered for him, “Because you always check your work!?”
As I pondered, in over five years, I could not recall a defect or workmanship issue regarding the work of this individual.
I don’t know if he was specifically taught these work practices, if it is innate to him, or if he learned from mistakes; but I do know that I thought, what if everyone did that?
Equipment: Equipment would never be left behind. Even with the application of the software that tells you a piece of equipment is left on-site, if the person who installed it failed to scan it to the site, it can be left behind. A quick walk-through in the spirit of double-checking that all equipment is pulled can eliminate the call, “You left an air mover here.”
Repairs: Some trades lend themselves to easy checks. Install a faucet? Check that it works properly and is not leaking by turning it on. Some trades require the detailed eye of a craftsman: is the drywall paint ready?
The examples of problems that can be reduced by checking are endless as are the potential solutions. It applies to everything from field execution to office, administration, marketing, accounting, etc. Here is a brief list to get started on helping our organizations and teams to improve with a little checking:
Organizational processes can support and contribute to checking in the spirit of reducing errors. A simple example is a co-worker double checking, inspecting (and signing off as “inspected”) contents before they get packaged for storage and/or returned to the customer.
Reconciliation is a concept that is often associated with accounting functions. A bank reconciliation is a check and balance that everything that is recorded in the accounting system is in perfect alignment with the bank system. Any discrepancy is identified and corrected. Reconciliation as a process can be applied to many areas within your company. As a simple example:
10 water losses to be monitored 10 monitorings are scheduled 10 readings/maps get submitted at day end 0 Steps were missed
Culture and Training always have a global impact in our operations and outcomes. We can incorporate checks (self-regulation) into the training of skills and tasks within the organization. Culturally, we should celebrate and hold people accountable to their level of conscientiousness in the performance of their work and be prepared to coach and develop them on improvements.
A little time in double-checking can have exponential value in time wasted and service-related issues.
This is the first article of a multi-part series on employee burnout in the restoration industry. Part one introduces the nature of burnout and summarizes findings from a study on burnout in the restoration industry. Part two begins a discussion on things restoration companies can do to manage one of the most complicating factors for burnout among restoration professionals – workload. Part three advances the conversation and discusses what restoration professionals can do at the individual level to manage workloads more effectively.
Since the 1990s, experts have been declaring burnout levels are reaching epidemic proportions among North American workers (Maslach & Leiter, 1997). Since that time, most people would probably agree that work-related stressors have only intensified with the proliferation of metrics, technology, and the need to be “on” all the time. A recent study by Gallup (Wigert & Agrawal, 2018) surveyed 7,500 full-time employees in the United States and reported that 67% of the respondents experienced feelings of burnout on the job. Another study by Deloitte (2018) surveyed 1,000 full-time professionals in the United States and reported that 77% of respondents said they had experienced burnout in their current job. In addition, the World Health Organization announced it would be revising its definition of burnout in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases, effective Jan. 1, 2022. One of the primary changes will be how burnout is classified—this revision will involve a change in classification from “a type of psychological stress” to a “syndrome.”
Disaster restoration professionals operate in a niche of the construction industry that is inherently stressful. Their work often demands being on call and working long hours under stressful and dangerous conditions following fires, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and a variety of other catastrophic events to structures. In addition, there are performance demands driven by metrics related to response times, project completion rates, customer service, and many other factors. Such conditions make restoration professionals more susceptible to burnout; therefore, it is important to understand the nature of burnout and how the effects may be mitigated.
“Burnout is defined as a crisis in a person’s relationship with their work, as well as a syndrome of three distinct feelings that comprise the dimensions of burnout: exhaustion, cynicism, and professional efficacy (Masiach & Leiter, 1997)”.
The reasons for burnout can be complex and are addressed at length in many studies and books that have been published on the topic over the past few decades. Many have debated the reasons for burnout, whether occasional feelings of burnout can be good for someone, the complexity of burnout and the degree to which non-work factors may contribute to feelings of burnout on the job (and vice-versa), and where future inquiries into the subject should focus—among other topics. While many of these factors are still being debated and explored, there are many things scholars and professionals have come to understand about burnout and agree upon. Specifically, it is important to understand that some industries have higher burnout rates than others and that contextual factors such as organizational culture and the capacity to cope with stress within individuals vary widely.
Regardless, there is much for an industry to gain by having a deeper understanding of employee burnout among professionals and to explore strategies for improving the health and lives of its members. The primary goal of this article is to discuss the nature of burnout, share findings from a recent study on burnout within the restoration industry, and begin a practical discussion related to how we, as an industry, can seek to thrive with the inherent challenges the industry faces. We hope many productive conversations develop from this article.
Restoration is a great industry that does great work for the great people of our society. It is inherently challenging and stressful, but rewarding for those who enjoy working hard and doing good work for good people in need. This article seeks to candidly discuss the challenges of burnout for restoration professionals and begin a productive conversation on how we, as an industry, can do our work in a rewarding, enjoyable, productive, and effective manner.
Burnout is defined as a crisis in a person’s relationship with their work, as well as a syndrome of three distinct feelings that comprise the dimensions of burnout: exhaustion, cynicism, and professional efficacy (Maslach & Leiter, 1997).
Dimensions of Burnout
The three dimensions of burnout help us understand the primary characteristics of burnout and provide insight into the nature of the burnout experience.
Exhaustion: The feeling of being overextended and physically and emotionally drained. “[It] is the first reaction to the stress of job demands or major change” (Maslach & Leiter, 1997). When someone is feeling exhausted, they lack energy and are unable to unwind and recover (Maslach & Leiter, 1997).
Cynicism: Leads to people developing a distant attitude toward work and the people surrounding them at work. In a sense, it is a defense mechanism that is deployed to protect oneself from exhaustion and disappointment (Maslach & Leiter, 1997).
Professional Efficacy: Relates to feelings of effectiveness and adequacy regarding a person’s work. Accomplishment is vital and it is important for professional development and self-confidence. As someone loses confidence in themselves others lose confidence in them (Maslach & Leiter, 1997).
(Sources of Burnout)
Equally important to understanding the components of the burnout phenomenon it is essential to examine the primary sources that influence exhaustion. There are six sources of burnout that mediate feelings of exhaustion:
Summary of Findings from a Recent Study
A recent study on burnout conducted by two of this article’s authors, Dr. Avila and Dr. Rapp, sought to explore the nature of burnout and worklife context (sources of burnout) among restoration industry professionals (Avila & Rapp, 2019). We distributed a survey that consisted of a demographic questionnaire, the Maslach Burnout Inventory, (MBI), the Areas of Worklife Survey (AWS), and a set of exit questions that gauged respondents’ turnover intentions. A total of 318 respondents completed the entire survey.
The results on burnout revealed that, when compared to other industries, restoration professionals were experiencing higher levels of exhaustion, cynicism, and professional efficacy. The researchers had not anticipated this interesting finding. The model, as discussed in earlier in this article, suggests that as exhaustion increases, cynicism increases, and professional efficacy decreases. Why would restoration professionals have increased professional efficacy when the mediating factors suggest they should be experiencing the opposite? Is it their resilience? While years could be spent studying this to find an explanation we aren’t going to be doing that. It is time for a practical discussion. We know restoration professionals experience burnout so it is imperative for us to discuss why we think this is the case and what we (professionals and employers) can do to mitigate the effects of burnout.
“Results of the six sources of burnout found that workload was the only source having a statistically significant effect on exhaustion for restoration professionals.”
Moving forward, an important part of the discussion on burnout should explore the reasons restoration professionals would experience burnout in a manner that is so unique and different from other industries. What factors do we think are contributing to this dynamic? Could findings on the sources of burnout help us understand how and/or why restoration professionals would experience burnout in the manner the study has revealed? Could the amount of hours restoration professionals work be contributing to them having a high sense of professional efficacy? Could factors related to the number of years they have worked in the industry influence their sense of professional efficacy?
Results of the six sources of burnout found that workload was the only source having a statistically significant effect on exhaustion for restoration professionals. From this point, the researchers had to look to answers respondents provided in the demographic questionnaire at the beginning of the survey. There were two primary data points in the demographic questionnaire where the researchers discovered correlations to workload:
Number of hours worked: Respondents self-reported the number of hours worked and the average was 52 hours per week; however, some respondents reported working more than 80 hours per week. As the number of hours increased, the respondents were move likely to report a heavier workload.
Number of subordinates: Respondents self-reported the number of subordinates supervised and this finding was negatively correlated with perceptions of workload. As the number of subordinates supervised increased the respondents were more likely to report a heavier workload.
While workload, in itself, can involve many factors, we will explore ways in which it can be managed effectively at the company and individual levels. In the second part of this series, we will start to discuss how to manage the burnout.
The authors wish to extend special thanks to the members of Business Networks who have graciously shared their experiences, NextGear Solutions who opened the door for public discussion on these topics among restoration professionals, and other industry professionals who have engaged us on the development of the study throughout the entire process. Thank you for the support, feedback, and valuable insight.
To get the most out of your iRestore reporting system and features, it is critical to collect thorough and accurate information at the onset of the job. We have designed a Referral Chart Reference guide that can be adjusted to track based on your company’s needs. Check it out below:
Tips on how to use your Referral Chart Reference Guide: 1. Train your team to collect the right information with the use of the chart. a. Consistency is key. b. Ask the right questions of your customer at the right time.
2. Utilize the reporting features to constantly evaluate the results and sources of your revenues. a. Share reports with the appropriate team members. b. Have a routine meeting schedule. For example, evaluate key reports once a week.