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Is Being a Construction CEO Hazardous to Your Health?

Article-Is Being a Construction CEO Hazardous to Your Health? WOC360_Wayne Rivers_iStock.jpg
Industry-wide disruptions can take their toll on CEOs, both physically and mentally. Here are some strategies to protect yourself.

Serving as a senior leader in any successful construction organization is stressful and challenging. An article in the May 2021 Chief Executive daily newsletter discussed a study of CEOs who led their companies through what they called "industry-wide disruptions." The study covered the period of 1975 through 2012, so it includes The Great Recession but pre-dates COVID. The study concluded that executives who led their companies through industry-wide downturns (i.e., recessions) lost one and a half years of lifespan when compared to non-CEOs. In addition, using artificial intelligence to analyze photographs of CEOs, they found that they, on average, looked about a year older than non-CEOs.

The average tenure of a public company CEO is only about five years, while the average private company CEO serves about 24 years. Since there is a recession, on average, about once every seven years, the typical construction CEO will likely work through at least three recessions during his career. And the disruptions take a toll both physically and mentally.

If being a CEO can be hazardous to your health, how can you push back? Here are five tips.

  1. Monitor your wellness. As a society, we focus entirely too much on sickness! Focus on your wellness instead. Monitor your vital signs: blood pressure, weight, body fat percentage, resting heart rate, and similar things. With today’s technology, including smart watches, you can monitor all kinds of body functions; it’s easier than ever. Think in terms of wellness and not sickness, and take care of your physical body.
  2. Monitor your mental health. It is mentally exhausting to run a construction business, especially in challenging times—and the times always seem to be challenging! First there was COVID-19 in 2020 followed by the shortages (of everything!) in 2021. The only thing in abundance just now is opportunity, and we cannot take advantage of them because we can't get people, and we can't get construction inputs. That's stressful! You need at least one outlet, somebody that you can really talk to you. For me and hundreds of contractors, it's my peer network. I am part of a “peer group of peer group providers,” and I have a group of 15 brother and sister business owners that I can call on 24/7 to share problems, challenges, and opportunities. It's a great pressure release to have that peer network. Monitor your mental health as much as you do your physical health.
  3. Exercise. Exercise is a tremendous stress reliever. It's worth noting that there are two kinds of stress: eustress and distress. If you're a runner, and you're going to go out and knock off five miles after work, that certainly puts stress on your body, but that can be good stress or “eustress.” When it comes to leading companies, we usually think of the opposite—distress—which manifests itself as headaches, trouble sleeping, irritability, indigestion, etc. Get more eustress in order to dispense with the distress that you'll inevitably experience as a contractor.
  4. Plan time away from work. I was involved in a coaching program years ago, and we planned our years in 90-day chunks. The very first thing we did was plan personal time like vacations, family time, couples’ time, self-time, and exercise time. All of those got scheduled before any business obligations made it onto the calendar. Our goal in that program was to take off around 125 days per year. That sounds like a lot, but if you avoid working on weekends that's 100 days right there. If you can take off 100 to 125 days a year, you will enjoy plenty of downtime and have a chance for excellent balance in your life.
  5. Look into proactive or concierge medicine. A few years ago, my wife and I subscribed to a concierge medicine concept, and it has totally transformed the nature of our relationships with our doctor. He monitors our wellness now, not our sickness, and it's almost like he's a counselor in addition to being a medical doctor. It’s a remarkable concept; why wait until you’re sick to visit your family doctor?

As tough, rugged contractors, I know what you're thinking: “Wait! This applies to other people. I'm bulletproof!” No, you're not! If you can't take care of yourself, you can't take care of your people, and you can't take care of your customers. Take care of yourself first, and then you'll be more available and better equipped to take care of all the others in your life.

Wayne Rivers is the president of The Family Business Institute, Inc.  FBI’s mission is to build better contractors!  Wayne can be reached at 877-326-2493, [email protected], or on the web at

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