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Estimator Burnout

We have all had the times that we worked 60 to 70 hours in a week, and sometimes we can have several weeks in a row like that.

As an estimator, you have entered an occupation that requires you to do “whatever it takes” to get the job done. “Whatever it takes” can be a heavy burden at times. Virtually every project you estimate has a drop-dead date.

Most of the time you are juggling several jobs that are bidding around the same time. You are expected (by your client and your boss) to complete the bid on time. As the deadline approaches and you look at how much work you have left to do, and you surmise that it could now take two days to complete your bid but you only have one day left because the bid date is tomorrow, what do you do? Do you call your client (and your tell your boss) that it’s going to take longer than you thought and you need another day? No, you can’t usually do that. You sit and you stare momentarily, your eyes sort of glaze over as you fall into a sort of a catatonic trance, and you sigh deeply as you come to the realization that you are going to have to work all night.

Why did you have to work all night? Why are you working such long hours? Is it the result of poor planning on your part? Are you just a workaholic, or is it that the boss expects it of everyone? More than likely it is a combination of all the above—with the added burden of architects/owners not understanding or appreciating the time required to prepare a quality estimate.

If overwork takes you to the point of burnout, you need to take a step back and assess the situation. There is a serious price to pay for burnout. Burned-out estimators may argue with co-workers, lack enthusiasm for their work, become depressed and make mistakes and poor decisions.

Depending on the size of the projects you estimate, you could be responsible for millions of dollars. When you are experiencing burnout, you are just not the “sharpest tool in the shed” and the possibility for making a serious error is increased exponentially. How would you like to feel just totally exhausted and compound your feeling of exhaustion with the discovery of a serious error in your bid? Now your boss is displeased with you (to say the least), and you are really unhappy with yourself at this point.

Here are some of the warning signs of stress and burnout:

  • Emotional and physical exhaustion.
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, chest pains, depression, sleepiness, digestive problems.
  • Angry, anxious or irritable behavior toward others; outbursts.
  • Feelings of helplessness and loss of control.
  • Persistent thoughts of quitting work.
  • Sarcasm, negativism and cynicism in one’s surroundings.
  • Feeling guilty when at play or rest.
  • Placing blame on others.
If you are an employer or in charge of an estimating staff, realize that burnout is a serious problem that can result in high turnover, degradation of work quality, hidden sabotage, diminished innovation and creative contribution. It is good business to relieve excessive temporary work pressures with outside help.

Here are some ideas to avoid burnout:

  • Realize your limitations, and don’t take on more than you can accomplish within a reasonable time. Learn to prioritize your work.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Like everything else in nature, our bodies need up times and down times—time to work and time to rest.
  • Work at home one or two days per week. Some employers have a difficult time with this one, but I believe the benefit to the employer and the employee is significant.
  • Don’t keep pushing yourself. Keep regular business hours, and remember to take breaks during your workday. Make sure to schedule in time off and vacations on a regular basis; you’ll come back with a fresh outlook and perspective.

About the Author

Charles Mahaffey is president of Accuest, LLC, Marietta, Ga. Accuest provides estimating and consulting services for commercial drywall subcontractors.

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