Flexible working is the new buzzword in employment. For some workers, particularly in sectors such as IT, it’s become the normal way of working. Many employers are finding that it is expected and not offering some form of flexible working is now essential in attracting new talent
But is it something that can work in the Construction industry and does the industry need to change? In what will be unsurprising news to most, 86% of the industry is male and the fastest growing demographic is over 60 years old. This is unsustainable for healthy growth of the sector going forward and highlights the need to attract new talent to build and sustain a dynamic and growing workforce. But will the industry be able to recruit this talent without some form of flexible working? There have been many initiatives carried out by the industry in the past in an attempt to tackle the skills shortage. Little though has changed, so maybe a new approach is needed.
There have been a few recent test schemes to assess the feasibility of a new way of working. One of these was commissioned by Timewise supported by CITB and Partners. The results of the 18-month study have just been released and both saw positive results.
The report found a mixed understanding of what flexible work actually was. Some assumed it was simply colleagues helping each other on an ad hoc basis. Most frontline workers thought it wasn’t for them due to their hourly pay structure. The permeating perception in the industry is that long hours are necessary. Anyone not up to those long hours was not committed. However, flexible working is not just one thing. It’s in the name. It’s being flexible to what your employees need and trying to adapt to circumstance and situation. Below are some of the initiatives tested and the benefits of each:
Cloud technology has improved to the extent that people can (and do) work from anywhere. This means that you can go to the site and have up to date information at the press of a button. You can work from the office or from home.
The ability to work from home can make some people much more productive. It also cuts down on travel time and allows for a better work life balance.
Where two or more employees share the roles and responsibilities of a job. It’s a great way of combining flexi and part-time staff. Its takes pressure of a job off just one person. It improves communication, collaboration and effectiveness. And again, improves work life balance.
The construction industry is notorious for long hours due to the need to deliver on time and on budget. TOIL means that when they work past their contracted hours, they get time off back. This prevents staff from becoming overworked and burnt out. It means they get back what they give building a culture of trust and appreciation.
The results of this pilot scheme for those who took part were overall positive. Those who took part were given 4 statements to agree to or disagree with measure the success of the pilot.
Working long hours is common in the construction industry and it is often cited that this impacts on the work-life balance and people’s wellbeing. Only 50% of people surveyed before the pilot felt their working hours gave them time to look after their wellbeing. By the end of the pilot, the number of people agreeing with this statement had risen to 84% or 8 in 10 workers. Furthermore, only 34% of respondents had worked longer than their contracted hours compared to 51% before.
The number of people feeling guilty about adjusting working patterns, i.e., starting later or finishing earlier fell from 47% to 33%. This could simply be because people in general were culturally adapting to more flexible working.
There was also a decrease of 15% in the number of people likely to perceive home workers as slacking.
The study definitely appeared to be positive for employees. But what about the construction companies.
Many of the companies found sickness absence reduced. One-day sickness absence was reduced by a third or more than halved for two participating companies.
Most importantly, all the pioneer firms reported that introducing improved flexible working had no negative impact on budgets or timeframes. For some, there was also emerging data suggesting that the adjustments to working patterns were driving savings on labour costs due to increased productivity.
One supervisor noted the impact in morale, “There has definitely been a positive impact on productivity. Morale is much better, and the guys are working harder.”
The results of the pilot have indicated that introducing flexible working more broadly in the industry would have positive impacts. Staff show reduced stress, increased wellbeing, and job satisfaction. Employers saw improved productivity and a reduction in sickness related absence with one observing, “People are more energised and working faster.”
With some participants stating that they would consider the ability to work flexibly as a key criterion when applying for future work, this could become the critical factor in talent attraction in the near future.
The report seems to clearly indicate that is that there is a place for flexible working in the construction sector. Implementing it though could well be a significant cultural change and could well present a challenge to leaders. There needs to be a clear vision and a well thought out approach to how this can work.
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