The challenges of attracting and retaining talent in UK construction are well known. The culture of long hours and a lack of arrangements for flexible working are one key barrier for many – particularly women, who leave the industry at a faster rate than men.
In recent years, construction has invested in measures to make the profession more attractive, looking at ways to improve well-being and work–life balance. In many other industries, flexible working is seen as essential to meeting these challenges, yet construction has to date not found a way to integrate it.
In 2020, Timewise found that only 10% of job vacancies in construction – and just 2% of frontline roles – offered flexible working.
Part of the issue is that employers do not know how to offer flexibility in a way that works effectively for both the business and its employees. While a few large firms have trialled informal flexible working for on-site jobs, there has been little systemic, industry-wide action.
Two years after research began and a global pandemic later, the Timewise study Making construction a great place to work: can flexible working help? has demonstrated that not only is flexible working possible for frontline operational roles in construction, but that it is beneficial from the perspectives of the individual worker and the overall business.
The pioneering study, co-designed by Timewise and industry organisation Build UK with support from Barclays LifeSkills programme and CITB, comprised pilots with four construction firms, BAM Construct, BAM Nuttall, Skanska UK and Willmott Dixon. The pilots lasted between six weeks and three months.
The four key elements to be addressed through the study were:
The working patterns trialled varied between the pilot sites to match their individual operating constraints. They included the following:
The success of the pilots was measured in surveys carried out beforehand and afterwards, which gauged shifts across four key indicator statements, as show in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Agreement with statements before and after the pilot
More qualitative insights were obtained through focus groups with some of the participating workers, and interviews with a selection of managers and senior stakeholders.
The focus groups concentrated on the impact of the pilot on work–life balance and well-being. Responses included the following.
The interviews took a more detailed look at commercial considerations, investigating whether the pilots had an impact on project performance as well as workers' well-being. Responses included the following.
It's clear from the study that while flexible working in the construction industry requires planning, time and effort, it is worth it. Flexibility can improve employee satisfaction, project performance, and help to attract and retain talent in the industry.
Business owners, project leaders, managers and supervisors looking to implement flexible working should follow the Timewise ten-point action plan for improving flexible working in construction.
1. Understand your baseline.
2. Articulate your vision and case for action.
3. Create an action plan for your pilot.
4. Train your managers.
5. Determine the appropriate flexible working patterns.
6. Communicate the plan to all workers at your pilot site.
7. Run the pilot.
8. Evaluate and codify learning.
9. Develop and communicate guidance and tools.
10. Roll out and review regularly.