COVID-19 introduced new risks to the mental health for project managers in Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) firms. Mr. Bashir Tijani, A/Prof. Xiaohua Jin and Dr. Robert Osei-Kyei from Western Sydney University discuss how AEC firms can reduce the ongoing risks.

Despite the urgent need for mental health management practices during the COVID-19 era, it is surprising that there is an absence of mental health studies in AEC project organisations to tackle psychosocial risks triggering poor mental health. This has hampered the ability of AEC firms to adopt project management practices to reduce the recent COVID-19 psychosocial risks, therefore, it is up to practitioners, government institutions and researchers to challenge existing studies to uncover ways to improve mental health management for project managers.

The psychosocial risks causing poor mental health

Some of the psychosocial risks triggering poor mental health among project managers in the construction industry include:

  • long working hours
  • increased workload
  • reduced rest periods
  • work-family conflict.

On top of this, COVID-19 has introduced a range of additional psychosocial risks, including:

  • social isolation
  • teleworking
  • job loss
  • reduction in revenue
  • fear of catching the COVID-19 virus
  • changes in procurement management procedures
  • changes in project planning and management.

For over 20 years mental health research in the construction industry has perceived psychosocial risks as generic factors without considering the project context. Emergent COVID-19 related psychosocial risks in AEC project organisations has meant mental health management practices for project managers has needed to evolve with innovative solutions required.

Mental health management practices needed during COVID-19

AEC firms seeking to promote positive mental health among project managers must take into account their project organisation design and identify project management practices that will promote positive mental health.

Lets draw inspiration from the McKinsey 7S Model to identify mental health management practices for reducing psychosocial risks during COVID-19. The McKinsey 7S Model comprises seven elements: structure, systems, style, staff, skills, strategy, and shared values, which can underpin the design of mental health management practices in AEC project organisations.

Source: McKinsey 7S Model. Extracted from Waterman, Peters and Philips, 1980, p.18

  1. Structure: Structure refers to governance institutions in AEC project organisations controlling project organisational learning, project management competencies, project performance control and monitoring, development of standardised methodologies and decision making.
  2. Systems: Refers to operational systems of the AEC project organisation that determine project management activities allocated to project managers.
  3. Style: Style refers to leadership styles, starting from top managers to project leadership, adopted in coordinating the affairs of project managers in AEC project organisations.
  4. Staff: Staff refers to human resources management for coordinating and monitoring recruitment, rewards, and appraisal of project managers in the organisation.
  5. Skills: Skills refers to the project management skills required for project management activities in an AEC project.
  6. Strategy: Strategy in the model refers to the business strategy the AEC firm plans in response or anticipation to changes in its external environment that can impose pressure on business operation and project managers engaging in project management practices.
  7. Shared values: Shared values refers to the culture inherent in the AEC project organisation.


Given the link between organisational design and mental health, interactive relationships between the seven organisational elements in the 7S Mckinsey model can underlay the development of mental health management practices in AEC project organisations. Practitioners should take into consideration these seven organisational elements influencing psychosocial risk, which can cause poor mental health.

This article appeared in the Spring 2021 edition of Paradigm Shift magazine. Find out more about the AIPM digital magazine and take a look at the full edition.