Pete throws a bone to all the hard-working hangers out there.

It was another cold January morning as my partner and I entered the house. We plugged in our radio, set up our benches, marked the trusses, pulled the rippers off the board while counting the sheets and started hanging lids.

Five hours later, the ceiling in the house was hung and now came the decision to either hang the garage lid or start walling the inside of the house. We stopped for lunch and laughed about the many times we have chosen to leave the garage for last. We hated hanging garages. You know why? It means we would have to raise our benches, hang around the furnace and cut out for the hardware around the garage door opener supports. After much talk we decided to get out there and get it done. We knew from experience that we make the most money if we do things in order.

Only the strong

Although it was many years ago that I was hanging houses and apartments, I remember everything about it. It may seem corny but I must say that hanging board for a living taught me so much about myself and about business. I don't care if you're a hanger or taper, or if you work footage, hourly, union or non-union. Drywall people are physically and mentally tough.

You get up each morning facing a stack of rock that is heavy enough to squash you like a bug if it fell on you. Sheet by sheet you cut, fit, nail and screw it into place while working in awkward positions and situations. By the end of the day you've handled two tons of material and you walk away as if nothing important happened and happily return the next day to do it again.

It's obvious that you have to be in good physical condition to work in the drywall industry. What is not obvious is how mentally tough you have to be to work in this trade. When I watch some of the new "reality" TV shows such as "Survivor" or "Fear Factor" I doubt very much if any of the contestants could mentally withstand doing battle with a stack of 12-foot board five days a week.

Again, this may sound corny but I look at professional drywall people as the mental equivalent of a Navy Seal or Special Forces kind of person. In order to become a professional drywall person you have to overcome the physical and mental obstacles waiting for you each morning. Drywall can wear a person down mentally to the point he wants out at any cost! I wonder how many work-related injuries are the result of an employee's loss of mental toughness.

Recently, one of our best workers got hurt and has been off for a few weeks. Because he is a professional and because he is mentally and physically tough, he wants to get back to work just as soon as possible and is making good strides at doing so. This guy is not a body builder or some macho glass eating, phone book ripping dude. He weights about 165 pounds and is about 5-feet, 10-inches tall and is all business. He is as mentally tough as they come and he deserves every penny he earns.

Mental toughness has nothing to do with how loud you can yell or how much beer you can drink. Mental toughness is the ability to overcome debilitating negative thoughts that slow you down, discourage you or send you packing.

As business owners, we lose perspective on how tough drywall work is. We sit in our office pushing a pencil or we drive around giving estimates or checking on jobs. We seldom think about the hard labor our employees perform day after day. Yes, most drywall workers are well paid; however, they work a lot harder and have a higher degree of physical risk than office jockeys.

For those of you who understand how mentally challenging drywall work is I congratulate you! For those who don't understand, I suggest you spend a year in the field having to depend on the money you earn while giving your mind and body a reality check. In the meantime, here are a few suggestions, which I believe promote mentally strong employees.

Don't expect your employees to perform miracles when you've screwed up! If you're bidding jobs too cheap don't expect your workers to make a silk purse out of a pig's ear. Sometimes owners think they can motivate their employees to work harder if they tell them how cheap they took the work. That says a lot about the owner. If you cry wolf too many times, your employees "lie-dar" will go off and they will stop taking you serious. Bidding work too cheap is a recipe for losing good people who you would otherwise be completely happy with.

A professional knows how to take a compliment. If an employee has done something that deserves a compliment, don't hold back! I don't know why we don't give more compliments to our employees. I guess we're afraid they're going to take our jobs or something. Maybe we're afraid the employee will ask us for a raise? I think the only thing that keeps us from complimenting our employees is our own lack of confidence. After all, how many compliments did you get or give last year?

Back up your employee if you've given him authority. There is nothing more demoralizing than giving someone authority and not backing him up. If you're not going to back your employee, it means you've given authority to the wrong person. That happens, but if your employee is right, stand behind the employee!

A professional needs the right tools and equipment to do the job. You can withhold proper tools and equipment from an employee who's not a professional. However, withholding tools and equipment from a professional clearly indicates your lack of support and says a world about what you think of the employee.

A new chapter

I recently compared the amount of board sold to drywall companies doing residential work as compared to commercial work. I was astounded to find out that residential drywall contractors install far more drywall than commercial contractors. I'm not going to quote the number comparisons because it would take up too much space. Now that I know the horrendous amounts of drywall you sneaky guys have been hanging all these years, my hat is off to you and I must suggest one other way you can support your workers as well as yourself.

Consider joining the Northwest Wall and Ceiling Bureau or consider starting a Chapter in your area. This organization provides wall and ceiling contractors a variety of services that will help you, your employees, your customers and the industry as a whole.

Small business owners don't have professionals who will go to bat for them when they experience a technical drywall, plaster, or ceiling problem. You can say all kinds of things such as, "We did this per the industry standard, or the joints are beading because the moisture content was too high, or the painter didn't prime the walls properly." You may be right but most likely, the owner isn't going to believe you because you're involved.

The NWCB has helped our company numerous times in resolving job site related problems. They are an independent third party who carries a lot of clout in the wall and ceiling industry and are very affordable.

Check out the NWCB on the Web at or contact Bob Drury at 206-524-4243 for information on joining or starting your own Chapter.

Over the years I've come to the conclusion that money is made on the job site. We office people like to think it's us that make all the money. After all we bid the jobs, we get the work, we sign the contracts and take all the risk. The office people are no better than the field people. The people in the field have one other major obstacle they deal with everyday that can make or break the worker and the job. It's an obstacle that can demoralize, depress, provoke, antagonize, embarrass, and anger a professional drywall worker to the point that they get fed up and leave. Who is this masked man who causes such problems, you ask?

The answer to this question rests in the hands of the person reading this story. You might ask yourself if you're a launching pad of support for your employees or an obstacle.

Remember. Teamwork begins with a fair contract! W&C