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Show Me the Door

Might as well jump … — from “Jump,” words and music by Van Halen

Judging from all the many columns I’ve written about estimators, you would have to conclude that we are a tolerant bunch, to say the least. After all, we regularly endure a boatload of daily stressors that would wilt the likes of a lesser sort. Long hours, hard deadlines, ambiguous bid docs and high stakes are the everyday realities that confront us throughout our working lives. I use the word “tolerant” because we are a breed apart as we take such slings and arrows in stride and accept them as part and parcel with the position. We tend to let the regular assaults roll off, and scoff at the victim mentality that others might assume. However, I believe that the constant pressures we quantifiers must bear can certainly inflict an unconscious toll on the body, mind and spirit over the years—a toll that might make any additional afflictions seem insufferable.


Aside from the above-mentioned demons that are inherent to an estimator’s profession, there may be negative circumstances adhering to a particular environment that can aggravate and worsen normal tensions. Such situational grievances may strain a sensible bidmeister’s tolerance beyond the breaking point. I have observed number of common circumstances that became the basis for some talented estimators to eventually resort to resignation, much to their employers’ surprise and chagrin.


No room for growth or advancement. This is a common basis for exiting among accomplished exactimators who have excelled in their position, but who have been kept at the same level, sometimes year after year. I say “common” because it is typical for contractor executives to overlook a motivated employee’s need to have a solid step up to aspire to. What I mean by a solid step up is a genuinely loftier position, not just a salary boost, added perks or a superior-sounding title. In all fairness, execs are caught between a rock and a hard place here because they want badly to keep talent in place where it does the most good, and astute estimators are hard to replace. So they continue to offer annual appeasements in hopes that it’s sufficient to buy continued loyalty. But an accomplished estimator is also a probable candidate for upper management, or minority ownership—which is exactly what a competitor is likely to offer a disenchanted bidmeister.


An unreasonable work load. Having little or no input on workload options is sure to become a major issue with overworked bidmeisters. I know of several cases in which the framing/drywall estimator has been made subordinate to a department head who has had no experience bidding framing and drywall. The superior, who dictates the bid calendar, has no concept of the complexities of a drywall bid and, as a consequence, regularly assigns mountains of work for the subordinate bidmeister, accepting all bid invitations and taking no notice of the extended hours and weekends that the drywall estimator is putting in. Clearly this is another example of a future ex-employee.


Dysfunctional workplace dynamic. Tensions in the work environment are sure to aggravate the inherent stresses of an exactimator’s lot. Micromanagement from above, an oppressive boss, an atmosphere of ethically questionable practices might all be factors that contribute to a buildup of inner pressure. As might be expected, some of these negative conditions give rise to related problems—for instance, long hours at work, especially evenings and weekends, diminishes time spent with family and friends, and so the whole work-versus-personal life balance is thrown out of kilter. Self-worth becomes all-too connected to professional success, while familial distance, estrangement and even divorce haunt the personal lives of overextended construction estimators.


However, as I said, the victim mentality is for those who are too willing to surrender to their immediate circumstances. And, as I also said, we estimators are a sturdy bunch—not easily given to wilting in the face of adversity, at least, not when there are proactive measures to ward off the demonic heralds of burnout. And those defensive measures are several.


For instance, talking with a superior about the troubling aspects of a job is the obvious first avenue. He may be more than willing to allow a subordinate more input into shaping the bid calendar. A reasonable exec will recognize that his estimator can be the best judge of what volume he is able to assume effectively, and that he may have some valuable insight into what might be a good job to pursue versus what might be a waste of time


In many cases, a long (two-week?) vacation may be just what the doctor ordered. Most bid activity comes in waves, so taking some vacation time is an excellent remedy for deflecting imminent burnout. Most bidmeisters that I know take little or no time off, which is ironic because they are invariably the ones most in need of it. Could it be that the predictable mop-up upon return only multiplies the frustration?    


Maintaining friendships in the workplace can also provide a valuable defense against anguish. There’s nothing like a sympathetic ear for releasing frustrations, and only a colleague who is personally familiar with the particular grievances can commiserate thoroughly.


Of course, a well-considered resignation is the most drastic measure, and it should be a last resort. But if none of the remedies discussed above suffice, it’s probably time for a change of scenery. More often than not, the conditions that give rise to a toxic workplace are intractable. In such cases, there is no reason not to explore the possibility of greener pastures. Most bidmeisters don’t realize that the average length in which a construction manager (or estimator) stays at the same job is five years. After all, as long as there is a life-boat out there, jumping ship can be the start of new opportunities. Anyway, what’s the alternative? So, as they say, might as well jump.


Vince Bailey is an estimator/project manager in the Phoenix area.

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