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Does your construction job offer a work-life balance?

With studies producing such startling statistics as 66% of UK workplace managers saying work was damaging their health and 77% admitting that work affected their relationship with their children, are we becoming a nation working to live with no sense of balance in our lives? The Office of National Studies also found that most couples spend more time apart than together, with most of the time that they do share spent watching television. Based on 21,000 diaries, the ONS discovered that the average British couple spends just 15 minutes a day enjoying a social life with each other (Independent, 16th July 2004). The term ‘work-life balance’ gets a fair amount of media time with worthy professionals telling us we should all work harder to achieve this, but what does it really mean to a construction project manager or a quantity surveyor, and how can we go about gaining a more balanced personal life when a job in the construction industry is known to be a labour of love?

A Construction Career and Your Personal Life

In an ideal world, it has been suggested that we set aside a certain amount of time per week for our job; hobbies/interests; family relationships; our friends/colleagues; on self-care ie. sport or exercise; on community activities and planning future projects. If people feel overwhelmed by their workload they need a way of dealing with it that allows them to fulfil their professional obligations while at the same time safeguarding or even restoring their private lives. This is where the issue of control comes in and later in the article we look at ways you can introduce some control back into your career and personal life.

It is hardly surprising that many people find themselves overwhelmed when we consider that over the past twenty-five years the nature of work has altered hugely, driven in part by information technology; an increasing vulnerability to competition and by a changing workplace. Arguably, trust, long-term loyalty and a sense of corporate community have been eroded in many jobs by a performance culture that expects more and more and offers little security in return.

Stress, Working Hours and the Construction Industry

One in five British workers now report that they have been affected by stress and half a million people a year report stress levels that are making them ill (Health & Safety Executive [HSE] 3rd July 2002 and 11th October 2002). Britain’s full-time workers put in the longest hours in Europe at 43.6 a week, well ahead of the EU average of 40.3 (Eurostat figures, cited in ‘About Time. A New Agenda for Shaping Working Hours’, TUC, London, 2002). It remains the case though, that once committed to long hours of work, it’s hard to envisage a different schedule. In the Populus poll conducted for the Times (November 4th to 7th 2004) 78% stated that they would not choose to work fewer hours for less money with 52% saying they could not afford it.

It seems that the UK workplace agenda is perched uneasily between an American corporate thrust that drives its workers harder than ever and a European approach where a variety of political cultures hold social issues such as the welfare of children, the individual’s quality of life and the cohesion of communities and families in great importance.

In Europe the Working Time Regulation with its ceiling on a 48-hour working week has been readily implemented, apart from Britain with its opt-out waiver. Many European countries have chosen to have much lower hours: The Netherlands has a 32 hour week for public sector workers; France tried to introduce a 35 hour week under Lionel Jospin and Finland experimented with a 30 hour week in 1996.

However, there is a big difference between restricting the time people are allowed to spend working and helping them to achieve a balance between work and the rest of their lives. The issue of balance is not solely concerned with the number of hours a person works. There are those who work relatively long hours and do not suffer the all too familiar effects of work-related stress. There are those who work part time and suffer a great deal.

Being in Control Within Your Construction Job

On looking more closely at this dilemma within both the world of work more generally & in the construction industry specifically, it is possible to see that the answer lies in having a sense of control. Those who generally feel their working lives are out of control are much more likely to feel ill than those who feel relatively in control. When people are asked why they work such long hours in the construction industry the overwhelming response is that they are trying to control their workload. So control is the key to both over-working and stress levels. If people’s sense of control can be restored, they can reduce their hours to the levels where they are generally happy and reduce the amount of stress related illness.

Improving Your Construction Job and Your Quality of Life

So how can you go about achieving a healthier work-life balance without giving up your job and relocating to a Caribbean island? (although such job vacancies are available through Maxim!) We have come up with some suggestions that might be of help when reflecting on your career in construction in relation to your personal life:

At Work:
  • Talk to Your Current Employer If You Are Experiencing Problems. Many construction industry employers today, particularly in times of skill shortage, recognise the value of good employees and are willing to find ways to help current employees deal with short-term or permanent changes caused by family situations. The changes that are possible might include flexitime, job-sharing, telecommuting, or part-time employment. First of all you should research your employer’s policies and methods of handling previous requests. Make sure you go to your boss armed with all the information and a plan on how such a change could work to mutual benefit.
  • Recruit a Junior to the Construction Team. Discuss with your Commercial Manager, Managing Surveyor or Contracts Manager the potential productivity benefits of you delegating minor tasks to lower paid junior staff, leaving you to focus on what you alone can do!
  • Slow Down! You will be no use to anyone if you run yourself into the ground! Life is simply too short, so take steps to stop when you need to, and enjoy the things and people around you. Schedule more time between meetings and try not to fill up every evening or weekend with plans to complete construction related work. There is life outside the construction industry!
  • Learn to Better Manage Your Time. Avoid Procrastination. For many people, most of the stress they feel in the construction industry comes from simply being disorganized -- and procrastinating. Learn to set more realistic goals and deadlines regularly -- and then stick to them. Month end accounts come regularly & can be predicted!! With a bit of planning & the team pulling together you’ll find that not only are you less stressed, but your work will be even better.
  • Prepare a Career Development Plan. Look ahead to see the benefits you can look forward to from your diligence!! (More about this in a future Maxim newsletter)
  • Consider Looking for a New Construction Job. Perhaps you simply need to take a less stressful quantity surveying, engineering or project management job within your chosen career sector? This change of job brief may involve working with your current employer to identify a new position or may required a full consultation and job-search using a specialist construction recruitment agency such as Maxim Recruitment to consider all the possible new options. If the latter is appropriate, do get in touch with Maxim via the website or by phone to talk to one of our consultants about which job move could be right for you.
At Home:
  • Share the Load. Although it may sometimes feel that you are the person responsible for everything, this is usually not the case. Get your partner or other family members to help you with personal/family responsibilities such as taking care of the household, children, or parents.
  • Let Things Go. It’s easier said than done, but learn to let things go once in a while. How much does it matter that the dishes don’t get washed every single day or that the house doesn’t get vacuumed every week? Learn to recognize the things that don’t really have much impact on your life and allow yourself to let them go -- and then don’t feel guilty for doing so.
  • Explore Your Options. Get Help. If you are feeling overwhelmed by your family responsibilities, perhaps you could consider getting help around the house. Find a sitter for your children, explore options for aging parents, and maybe consider seeking some counselling for yourself. You do always have options, but it sometimes takes time to find them.
  • Take Charge. Set Priorities. Sometimes it’s easier to feel overwhelmed rather than take charge and work out what needs to get done. Write a list, highlight the priorities and then enjoy the satisfaction of crossing things off.
  • Simplify. It seems human nature for people to take on too many tasks and responsibilities, to try to do too much, and to own too much. It helps to try and simplify your life- change your lifestyle; learn to say no to requests for help and get rid of the clutter and baggage in your house -- and your life.
Balancing a Construction Job and a Personal Life

In the end, the key word is balance. You need to find the right balance that works for you. Celebrate your successes and don’t dwell on your failures. Maybe you could even look over your CV to remember your past successes and to ensure that it really shows your construction skills and experience in the best light. If you need some tips, look at the ‘Career Advice’ section on the Maxim website. It may then be a good time to talk to an agency such as Maxim to establish your options.

Is there a dream construction job that you’ve always wanted? Give one of our consultants a call and let them advise you of the best way to progress towards it, either through further qualifications or working for a company that can offer such opportunities either now or in due course. Or maybe you really do want to live abroad for a while and experience a different culture and lifestyle? With many amazing vacancies in the Caribbean as well as in Middle East locations such as Dubai, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi, give Maxim a call to discuss or take a look at them on the website.

Achieving a balance in your life is all about taking back control be it either in your job or in your personal life, and remembering you are the person in direct control of your destiny. Life is a process and so is striving for balance.

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