Psychology in construction: A psychologist shares her insights

Celebrity psychologist and international speaker Charissa Bloomberg has a history of applying her skills in the engineering, mining, and construction industries. Here, she shares her approach, from initial needs analysis to the human element that should never be underestimated.

Bloomberg, known for her guest appearances across radio and TV stations, has a passion for integrity and mental health awareness, which she has applied for over a decade in the engineering, mining, and construction industries.

Fondly known as the “site shrink”, Bloomberg believes that companies in this niche often forget that it’s people who build our projects and infrastructure. As a site psychologist, she works in close collaboration with the managing director and his team. At times, she is also called upon to advise at EXCO level.

“The best time to be roped in is at the start of a project. Later on, it can be tricky to iron out problems when an incompatible team is facing issues due to different management styles. Key aspects to remember include motivation, morale, personality traits, poor leadership, low EQ, integrity, corruption, communication issues, and the importance of adhering to health and safety protocols,” she enthuses.

Bloomberg is not afraid to get dirty on site or to counter a foreman who questions why they have been booked for a two-hour strengthening session when they are on a tight schedule with a billion-dollar project. “I just get on with the training, only to find that the engineers and other industry specialists enjoy the sessions and go back to work refreshed; they also claim they are able to take the knowledge with them for application both in their work environment and home lives.”

On-site training should be fun, she says, explaining that incorporating role playing, sharing opinions and stories, brainstorming, and even making up songs about the values that need to be upheld on-site go much further than a PowerPoint presentation.

On a personal level

“Construction industry members often live away from their families for long periods of time, which puts a strain on their close relationships. Additionally, job insecurity is common after a contract ends,” Bloomberg advises. “This can impact on their mental health and safety mindset.”

“I believe it’s crucial to be informed of the different kinds of psychological issues staff members are dealing with, from stress and burnout to alcoholism and other personal challenges,” she adds

For this reason, Bloomberg’s first action when beginning a site psychologist contract is to conduct a thorough needs analysis. “At times, mini team-building sessions are necessary. Emotional intelligence sessions or anger management should be tackled in a healthy way – without losing tempers. Meeting production deadlines can prove extremely stressful, especially for teams that are struggling to meet their targets. Once again, it’s all about being sensitive to the motivation levels on a particular site.”

Bloomberg explains that low morale can indeed become an issue at times. “The challenge,” she reveals, “is to build trust and emphasise that I am not a threat, nor can or will I break the confidence of those who have the courage to bring their problems to me.”

My work is never done

Despite all the careful planning, a day on site never quite turns out as expected,” explains Bloomberg. “A crisis may take precedence over the training or mentoring planned for the day, such as an urgent counselling session. For example, when a bus bringing staff to work resulted in an accident and fatality, an immediate debriefing session was needed.”

“Often, huge contracts involve joint ventures with three or more big construction companies, each with its own culture and management style,” she continues. “Before different companies collaborate on a project, I recommend a day or more of brainstorming to establish how the different teams are going to work together effectively and without conflict, to bring everyone onto the same page.”

Bloomberg emphasises that a site psychologist’s work is not complete at the point where he or she leaves the site. “There are still reports to write, and research studies to compile, not to mention the inherent dangers of the role. I’ve been on site during strikes and when labourers were burning cars; even travelling to a site location can prove dangerous.”

“While the construction industry presents a study in contrasts, the fundamental human element – and the issues people are struggling with – remain consistent, and ultimately impact productivity,” she concludes.

Bloomberg is available for talks, conference events, and training. Please visit:
Her next talk, People Management in Construction, takes place on 30 July 2024 at the University of Cape Town, and will be presented in conjunction with professionals from the University of Wolverhampton.

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