Look around you and there will almost certainly be someone in your office vicinity that looks close to breaking point, big bags under their eyes and definitely more grey hairs than last week. Compassion aside for your co-worker on the brink of a nervous breakdown, a workforce punctuated with staff ‘on the edge’ is far from productive. It’s of no surprise that businesses are, therefore, losing £10 billion a year in the UK to work-related stress. The answer, as we know, is to strike the work/life balance equilibrium wherever possible.
So why is flexible working still so hard to come by in our industry?
There is a huge demand for modernisation across many facets of the construction industry. Modern methods of construction such as offsite production and modular housing are finally getting the airtime needed, for example. But when it comes to flexible working, very few companies are shouting about it. In fact, most are burying their heads in the sand when it comes to their flexible working offering.
Since 2014 it is actually the law to offer flexible working where fairly requested. But it seems to rarely be granted, perhaps because people are afraid to ask in the first place. The perception and stigma of flexible working by peers also needs addressing. According to the work of author and columnist ‘Mother Pukka’, a committed advocate of the cause, 44% of dads lie about taking time for baby scans, nursery pick-ups and sports days in fear of emasculating, well, being a dad!
In my experience, there is an unspoken code with construction consulting employers that you might be allowed to work from home once in a while as and when needed. Or perhaps even regularly once you ‘have proven yourself’. But this will not be written into your contract when offered the job. The notion of being sat at your desk 9-5 day in, day out is still flogged by most businesses in this sector. The odd ‘side arrangement’ may slip through the net but generally, eyebrows are raised at the idea of anything other than the traditional five day, desk-bound week.
It is true that technology plays a big part in the success potential of flexible working. Some companies, especially some of the older fashioned SMEs in our sector, are just not set up for this. Dodgy VPNs or data sharing restrictions make things difficult when dialling in from home. But for many businesses now investing in technology across other areas of their business, BIM and VR for example, the ability to make flexible working a standard reality for their staff should be priority.
Of course, flexible working is not just about working from home. Part-time arrangements seem even more elusive in our industry than agile working. Yet these ways of working are what people want. I am asked by MOST of the people I assist to find a new job whether the ‘benefits package’ of the prospective employer includes flexible working (shame that the notion is still perceived as an add-on and not the norm, but one step at a time I suppose!) Those few employers out there who are offering genuine part-time or agile working arrangements are securing the best talent by default, because flexible working is what people want NOW, not in the future!
It should be added that flexible working is not just for parents. Not just for working mums, or part-time dads. It should be an option for everyone. Incidentally, it has also been confirmed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission as the ‘primary way’ to bridge the gender pay gap. A highly desirable side effect for the world at large and employers looking to make a difference here too.
So, let’s see some change! Let’s see some pioneers in the construction industry stepping forward who are proud of their flex appeal.