When to be a tradie boss, when to be a mate with Andy Smith

Building a culture of mateship within your trade business is a fantastic pursuit.

Not to mention that having a “watch your mates” ethos goes a long way to fostering a good mental health culture in a professional environment. But when you’re the boss, how do you draw the line between being a mate and being the person who gives the orders that your employees must follow?

In this article, you’ll learn how Andy Smith, veteran trade business owner and Lifestyle Tradie co-founder supports his employees while balancing mateship and good governance. His tactics promote professionalism, and high performance in the workplace, something that has proven particularly useful during the current crisis caused by COVID-19.

Here are five points Andy notes as being crucial for supporting your team through any situation.

Always open the door to talk

Having a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude has long been the go-to approach for tradies.

In the workplace, we’ve been wired to keep our feelings to ourselves and ‘just get on with it’. This is one of the reasons why both men and women in the industry get so much of their support and connection from social interactions with friends and family instead of from colleagues. This means that as a boss you’ll rarely have the chance to start a friendly wellbeing-related conversation with an employee at the pub.

Getting these interactions right is a pressing concern now more than ever, as a recent study by Monash University tracking the mental health effects of the coronavirus crisis has marked a significant rise in anxiety and depression in Australians. Andy notes that effects such as these mean that trade business owners must adapt their mental health approach and stop relying on recycled and outdated practices.

“In previous generations, we were told to drink a cup of concrete if the going got a bit tough, but times have changed”, he says. “We’ve got to look at mental health differently than before, starting with having an open-door policy on topics such as personal wellbeing.”

He adds further that, “It’s about treating team members as individuals with specific needs, not just numbers.”

His method in practice is as follows:

By carefully structuring his questioning, Andy builds a picture of how that person is going without making an employee feel like he’s probing them for answers. “I’ll ask about their partner or their kid/s, then I’ll push further and ask, ‘are you okay?’”. Depending on their answer, Andy then moves to deeper questions about wellbeing and how he can help, such as: ‘Is there anything you need from me?’ or if there is something wrong ‘What can we do to fix this?’

Above all else, however, Andy notes that this approach is dependent on always being on the lookout for changes in employee behaviour. “If you notice a tell-tale sign that something isn’t right, you’ve got to act fast”, he says.

Become a supportive listener

For all of us, 2020 has been a strange time to be alive. For trade business owners who are leading teams, they’ve had to step up and show everyone that they’re capable of supporting the needs of those who rely on them through any challenge. Because change affects us all differently, it’s important to recognise that your employees may be facing similar issues in very different ways.

Now isn’t the time for a short pep talk and a passing comment about keeping your chin up. Your team needs leadership and for Andy, the best way he’s found to provide this support is to start by listening. A meeting is a great place to begin, being a structured environment that still makes employees feel comfortable enough to talk openly.

“Whether that’s in person or over Zoom (if you’re still in lockdown), sit down with your team formally as a group, or as individuals, to check-in with them,” Andy says.

Top Tip:


For larger businesses, digital survey tools like Culture Amp can help you take this idea further, offering surveys and anonymous feedback boxes to give you a better indicator of how your tradies are currently feeling about work, life or anything that may be affecting their wellbeing.

Stay proactive and keep communicating

Even with structures in place to provide more support for your team, you’ve got to keep your ear to the ground to pick up on when an employee may need extra help. Lower work ethic, less attention to detail, and being less motivated to carry out regular tasks could indicate someone is struggling. This is where communication becomes key, explains Andy.

“You’ve got to keep the lines of communication open”, he says. “In our trade business, I’m always contactable by phone or Voxer. We also have weekly meetings and monitor our tradies every day to ensure that they’re on the right track.”

He further notes the need for positive reinforcement to be communicated regularly. “If they’re going well, I’ll say, ‘You’re doing a great job’, but this also helps me because I’m seeing them at their best and can more easily identify if something’s wrong in future.”

Be a business leader, not just a business owner

As the trade industry is traditionally regimented by rank, being someone that others can look up to will help you stay connected with your employees, while also earning you your due respect as a boss.

Ultimately what this comes down to is ensuring everyone in a professional team knows that by valuing the good of the business first and foremost, they’ll have their needs met in return.

“We all have to trust each other to work towards what benefits the collective”, says Andy. “My employees are relying on me to put food on the table and pay the mortgage, so in return for their hard work I need to show them that I’m committed to supporting them in any way I can.”

“At the end of the day, I’ve got to balance the decisions I need to make as a business owner with upholding my obligation to keep everyone in a job.” “But don’t see this as a negative thing, it can be a powerful way to show your employees that you’re always there for them”, he adds.

Focus on goals and employee buy-in

Keeping employees invested not only leads to a high-performing team but also promotes a stronger foundation for fostering good mental health. According to Andy, setting performance targets lets employees pursue realistic achievements and feel like they’re always working to surpass their goals. This builds self-worth and gives tradies a greater sense of agency within their workplace.

He warns though that too much goal setting can lead to confusion and stress, saying that, “when there are too many blurred lines, things are likely to blow up.”

He adds that businesses with this problem can start by ‘developing transparency across their business’. He then reiterates that “a good boss never treats employees like a number. Get everyone on the same page and rally your team together.”

But never forget that you’re human too and should always keep an eye on your mental health as much as the mental health of others.

Looking for more information about developing mental health practices specific to tradies?
Get in touch and BOOK A GAME PLAN CALL with Andy today.

Andy Smith is a fellow trade business owner and co-founder of Lifestyle Tradie, a membership and community for tradies in business.

Written by Lifestyle Tradie

Lifestyle Tradie is an award-winning membership and community for trade business owners who want to make more profit and fast-track financial freedom.