A career as an electrical contractor, consultant or panel builder can be lucrative, as well as professionally and emotionally rewarding. However, while you won’t find these roles on the most stressful jobs list, they can also be uniquely challenging. The industry is competitive, and margins are often tight. It can be a dream job but it’s also a difficult one.
Mistakes, miscalculations and delays will inevitably happen, or time spent being unable to work will add pressures, often outside of our control. Unfortunately, stress is a major part of the job, but keeping it under check is crucial to your performance, physical health and work-life balance.
In recent years, the electrical industry has gotten much better at acknowledging issues related to mental health and looking after those who are suffering. Much more can and should be done, but it’s important to consider the important roles that self-help and support networks can have in the healing process.
A silent killer
Roles in the electrical industry supply chain can be stressful. Whether you are an installer or consultant, a lot of travel, significant stretches of time working away from home, long hours and tight deadlines are to be expected. You may also be acutely aware of potential health and safety risks that can endanger your life or your livelihood at any time.
To some extent, a degree of stress is inevitable in every job. Yet, it’s when stress is ignored or goes untreated that it grows. If left unchecked, stress has the potential to lead to anxiety, depression and even death. Suicide rates among skilled tradespeople are soberingly high, almost 40% above the national average. Male suicide victims in this group account for 29% of all male suicides in the UK.
Stress can also manifest in subtler but no less damaging ways. It can impact a person’s social, emotional and psychological well-being as well as their lifestyle. Stress can cause severe phobias, panic attacks and alcohol addiction. Chronic stress can even contribute to family and marital breakdown, only worsening the plight of the sufferer.
The tragedy of poor mental health is how self-destructive it can be. Research shows that stressed workers are more likely to make mistakes on the job. Decision-making is impacted, and people suffering from depression tend to work slower and be less productive. In the electrical trade this can be a major barrier to success, only exacerbating professional frustrations and feelings of self-doubt.
Considering the struggles that many working in the industry face can make for grim reading indeed. Yet the situation is far from hopeless, nor is the sufferer powerless to help themselves. In fact, personal perspective and initiative are perhaps the most important factors in beating stress. It can be managed and self-help makes a world of difference.
Acknowledging that you are under pressure is the first, and probably most difficult, part of overcoming stress. Noticing the warning signs – feelings of exhaustion, bad temper, working late and a worsening diet – is a crucial first step before working up strategies to mitigate stress.
Stress isn’t always work-related, indeed it’s just as likely to be caused by family issues, financial problems like debt or the pressures of caring for a loved one or starting a family. That’s why it’s important to make time for yourself. Setting time aside for exercise and relaxation are actionable and effective steps in relieving stress. We all need to reserve time to stay healthy and, ultimately, be more productive and successful.
However, electrical industry professionals shouldn’t go it alone. While mental health awareness is growing every day, it sadly remains taboo in our industry. Many work in small teams, and while this familiarity and comradery can help alleviate feelings of stress and depression it can also make individuals more embarrassed to say when they need help. Worryingly, 95% admit to lying about how they are feeling and not admitting when they are struggling.
The internal welfare and support structures found in other industries are often absent or unavailable to electrical professionals. This leaves many feeling they have no one to confide in. Yet those in the electrical industry shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to others for advice and insight. Support networks are out there and have been set up to help give all players the financial, educational and emotional support they need.
The Electrical Industries Charity (EIC) has been doing just that for over 100 years. The group helps electrical professionals at every stage of their development, from when they are starting out as apprentices to when they are transitioning into retirement.
The EIC gives them the tools they need to be happy and productive, including support, materials and counselling that’s available to them and their families. Through a number of free workplace programmes, the group is able to provide scholarships and grants to help mitigate many of the common financial pressures that cause stress in the industry.
Every one of us will encounter stress at some point in our lives. What matters most isn’t what we do to avoid or ignore it, but how we accept and deal with it. The first step is one of self-acknowledgement, recognising that you are under pressure and making the small changes in your life needed to heal. Electrical industry professionals aren’t alone in this, however. Support networks like the EIC are there for when self-help isn’t enough, sharing advice and financial support when it feels like all other options have been exhausted. Stress is a fact of life, but it doesn’t have to take yours over.
Guest article written by Stewart Gregory, VP of Power Products at Schneider Electric.