Just How Stressful Is Construction Management?

Stressed Construction Manager

With annual salaries of around $95,000 a year, construction management attracts many people looking at possible career paths. It’s a respectable profession that offers them the opportunity to contribute to a city’s architecture and become immortalized. However, construction management is challenging — so, just how stressful can it be?

Construction management can be highly stressful because the manager must keep projects on schedule and within the approved budget. Achieving this requires constant supervision and hands-on involvement in the day-to-day running of a project site. Thus, construction managers are often overstressed.

This article will discuss why construction management can be stressful to help you decide whether or not construction management is the right career for you.

Why Construction Management Is Stressful

Construction management is stressful due to the following reasons:

Demanding Academic Requirements

The stress associated with construction management starts from the classroom. While it’s possible to land construction manager positions on small projects with accumulated experience or an associate degree, most employers will want to see a bachelor’s degree first.

They’ll typically expect you to have a major in engineering or construction management from a school accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). To get into some of these schools, you need to fulfill tough physics, maths, and finance requirements.

A strong background in physics, engineering, and mathematics is important if you’re to understand construction science. You’ll also need to take some business courses that will teach soft skills like conflict resolution, budgeting, delegating, and leadership.

Construction managers are also expected to display impeccable skills in spreadsheets, project information systems, and modeling. A combination of all of these requirements makes construction management stressful right from the classroom.

Constantly Changing Landscape

Construction managers have to keep up with the latest trends in architectural design. This puts them under pressure for most multi-million dollar projects. They have to figure out how to deliver what is required, in line with modern construction trends.

Today’s clientele expects construction managers to demonstrate expertise in energy-efficient and climate-proof structures that still retain a modern aesthetic appeal.

Unfortunately, staying abreast of all the recent changes in the construction world is not easy. Managers often have to enroll in additional courses from time to time to enhance their expertise. This is difficult in a role that offers very little free time.

More Than 40 Hours of Work

In many jobs, most people rarely have to go over 40 hours of work in a week. 

Construction management is far more demanding in this regard. On most days, construction managers have to resume on the worksite as early as 7 am, staying until 7 pm after architects and engineers have closed for the day.

The construction manager has to work closely with all of the different groups of workers on any construction site, including design professionals and field crews.  

This means they might end up putting in more than 40 hours every week just from organizing functions on the site. Throw in other functions such as analysis, documentation, planning, and other administrative work, and the manager’s work hours in any week draws closer to 60 hours or more. This leaves them very much stressed at the end of any workweek.

The Unpredictability of the Daily Routine

If you love a career that has a predictable daily schedule, construction management will leave you feeling stressed out. A programmer knows that the bulk of their day will be in front of a computer writing code or correcting errors. A customer service worker knows that their job involves listening to customer complaints for X hours before going home. A construction manager doesn’t have this luxury.

A construction manager is involved in all parts of the construction project, including handling legal contracts, creating documents, billings, and more.

All of these various facets have specific requirements, timelines, and demands. For instance, the billing and financial analysis typically go on bi-weekly, while document creation and contract handling have to be handled at the start of the project.

However, it’s rarely that cut and dry. Any slight shift in deadlines or workload can set off a chain reaction that will make a workday more stressful than originally expected. This forces managers to work some weekends or pull all-nighters to meet up. Combine this with possible academic exertions, and it becomes clearer why the role is regarded as very stressful.

The Mental Strain of Financial Risk

As a construction manager, you’re responsible for hundreds of thousands or millions invested in a project. Your job security and reputation hinge heavily on your ability to manage the finances for any project.

The financial strain is worse if you are working on a so-called “cost-plus contract” where the client pays the exact cost spent to complete a project, with a percentage of the cost as your profit. It’s a safe setup on paper, but there’s the risk of unhappy clients terminating agreements without prior notice.

Some construction managers work on a “lump-sum agreement” basis where they agree to work for a fixed price, no matter what happens. The amount won’t change unless there is a significant shift in the scope of the work.  

This arrangement is risky because the contractor has very little wiggle room for mistakes or dual expenses. The profits achievable comes down to the contractor’s ability to regulate the construction costs in relation to the budget.

Regardless of the contract arrangement adopted, construction management has some degree of financial risk. The financial risk triggers performance anxiety, which makes the field a stressful one.

High-Risk Work Environment

Each year, statistics are published to highlight the risks of the construction industry. Some of them include the following:

The statistics highlighted are just some pointers to the risk facing construction workers—including construction managers—face every day. Interestingly, it’s the job of construction managers to make sure a job site is safe. So, the managers face the double stress of ensuring worker safety and staying safe as well.

Dealing With Conflicts

Disputes are common in construction. Such disagreements can translate to loss of time and money. This is why conflict resolution is one of the skills you’ll learn in the formative years for this role.

When conflict arises during construction, it can lead to refusal to deliver materials, lawsuits, lien placement, strike action, contract disputes, and even bankruptcy. Even when the situation doesn’t escalate this far, you can be sure to get lots of aggressive conversations, strongly-worded emails, and letters, etc. 

Construction managers have to deal with the stress of managing these conflicts and preventing them from snowballing into problems that could jeopardize the chances of completing a project on schedule. 

Unforgiving Nature of the Industry

In the construction world, you can’t press CTRL+Z to undo mistakes. 

Correcting any mistakes can cost thousands of dollars. Depending on the severity of the mistake, it could also lead to a void contract and losing the job.

This is why construction managers have to pay attention to detail. To avoid mistakes, you need to be careful with basics like estimating the number of materials, inspecting work at different stages, handling the accounting side of the project, interpreting documents, and more.

Unfortunately, mistakes are almost unavoidable in the industry. Experience and expertise can keep them to the barest minimum, but they will happen. The stress of the job gets even worse at this stage because the manager has to find ways to remedy the situation to ensure it doesn’t affect the project.

Below is a table that highlights common mistakes that may happen under your watch as a construction manager and the potential impact on a project:

MistakeImpact
Ordering incomplete  materials for a jobDelaying the project for hours, days, or weeks
Ordering excessive amount of materialsPossible reduction in the profits achievable on the project due to wasted money
Submitting a bid with calculation errorsLoss of money for the company or a damaged reputation after pulling out of the contract
Administrative errorsConfusion on the work-site causing delays
Inspection failureStrong financial consequences from corrective approaches
Scheduling errorsUnnecessary downtimes and possible loss of money
Mistakes in safety checksInjury or death of personnel on the work site
Misinterpreting technical documentsLoss of funds and reputational risk
Accounting mistakesWrong impressions on a project’s viability

The impact of these possible mistakes is another reminder of why construction management can get very stressful.

Few industry niches emphasize experience as much as construction management. The median age of construction managers is 45.6 years. This is 2-3 years higher than what you’ll find in other sectors like education, sales, and healthcare. 

Looking at the myriad of problems arising from possible mistakes, it makes sense on paper to make sure that only the most experienced heads get into construction management positions. However, the fixation on experience is stressful on younger people trying to build a career in the industry.

As a 30-year old with a very good background in construction, you may still have to wait for a decade or more to make the transition from an associate or assistant to manager. Promotion may still not come that fast if you weren’t a part of several high-profile projects.

Also, since most construction managers work longer than managers in other professions, construction management opportunities around you may be few and far between. However, you can increase your chances of landing a role by being open to moving to other places.

According to the BLS, there’ll be 35,000 construction manager jobs from now until 2029. It sounds like many jobs are on offer, but keep in mind that most of the jobs will be filled by existing, more-decorated project managers.

In some industries, tech is leveling the playing field, so experience is less important. In construction management, having tech qualifications doesn’t quite move the needle in your favor by much.

So, the emphasis on experience and the number of projects completed can make the industry a stressful one for people looking to break in.  

Low Job Satisfaction

As we’ve seen above, construction managers have a lot of responsibility. Therefore, it’s no surprise that they rate their career happiness at 3 out of 5, placing them in the bottom 30% in this metric. Granted, this doesn’t mean that they are likely to quit their jobs, but they are likely to switch to a new role given the same salary.

This is a clear sign of how stressful the job can be for them.

Health Concerns

Apart from the risks associated with construction which we’ve covered above, construction managers strain themselves more than people in other industries. Construction managers also have to work in unpleasant weather conditions sometimes.

The accumulation of all the micro-stressors we’ve seen thus far can lead to poor health habits, triggering problems like hypertension, insomnia, skin problems, and more.

Should You Become a Construction Manager?

You can become a construction manager if you have the right background, possess most of the core skills required, and can handle the stress that comes with the job.

All high-paying roles are stressful in different ways. Your focus should be on looking at how a career in construction management suits you over other options. 

Final Thoughts

Construction management is a stressful career. However, it’s not a lot worse than similar paying careers. If you’re at the stage of considering your career options, your core competencies should be front and center of any decision you make.

A construction management salary is attractive, but the stress related to the role can leave you frustrated quickly if you only go in for the money. Remember, you may not land your first construction management position until you’re in the mid-forties. Do you have the passion required for staying in the industry long enough for that to happen?

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