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In Focus: Recruitment & Retention of Construction Staff - Do You Offer 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, it is clear that employers can do more to get the best out of their construction industry employees – for mutual benefit.

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); quite a lot less time than you spend with your colleagues in the office or on site.

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 managing quantity surveyor, who has to balance not only their own work and personal life, but also to get the best out of the staff they manage – who also have personal lives you should consider?

A Construction Career and a Personal Life

In an ideal world, it has been suggested that managers should encourage/facilitate employees to set aside a certain amount of time per week for their job, and then encourage them to make time for hobbies/interests, family relationships, friends/colleagues, sport or exercise and community activities. The thinking behind this being that if employees are feeling overwhelmed by their workload or are finding their job taxing, they should ring-fence a portion of their private lives to avoid all areas of their life becoming difficult to manage all at one time. This is where the issue of freedom to control working hours, and the allocation of time is of critical importance, and later in the article we look at ways you can facilitate employees to introduce some control of this back into their lives.

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). This is reason enough to take employee welfare issues seriously.

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, some commentators link the longer hours the UK puts in, to its better economic performance compared to much of the rest of Europe

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. It is the role of the good construction industry recruiter like Maxim and the construction industry employers they recruit for to ensure that the expectations of the company culture match the expectations of the candidates being shortlisted for the job.

Being in Control Within Your Construction Job

On looking more closely at the world of work more generally & in the construction industry specifically, it is possible to see that some of the answers lie in giving the construction staff you manage 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, and you as a manager can facilitate that, then they can reduce their hours to the levels where they are generally happy and reduce the amount of stress related illness. The benefit to you, is a healthy, happy, productive long term loyal workforce that you can rely on.

Improving Your Construction Employee’s Jobs and Their Quality of Life

So how can you go about achieving a healthier work-life balance for your staff without appearing to have ‘gone soft’ and ensuring competitive advantage is gained rather than lost? We have come up with some suggestions that might be of help when reflecting on the style of manager you want to be, and the type of construction industry culture you want to be identified with:

At Work:
  • Talk to Your Construction Staff If You Can See They Are Experiencing Problems. Put at its most utilitarian, many construction industry employees, particularly in the current times of skill shortage, recognise the value of good employers and will easily be able to leave and find a more sympathetic employer. Conversely, treat them well, and you will find that staff are willing to stick with companies that find ways to help them deal with short-term problems. The changes that you might want to discuss and consider offering staff might include flexitime, job-sharing, telecommuting, or part-time employment. If you plan around staff member’s personal difficulties, you may well retain a good member of staff for the long term, rather than waste all the training and knowledge you have passed them.
  • Offer to Recruit a Junior to the Construction Team. Offering your employees the potential productivity benefits of them delegating minor tasks to lower paid junior staff, can leave them to focus on what you actually employed them at a high level salary to do. You may even be able to get significantly more ‘brain’ work out of them if you get them an assistant, and see them grow in their role once they have others learning their methods of working
  • Tell Over Committed Staff to Slow Down! Your staff will be no use to anyone if you let them run themselves into the ground! You, as a good manager should be able to spot problems that they may only be able to see in hindsight once it’s too late.
  • Teach Staff to Better Manage Their Time: Avoid Procrastination! For many people, most of the stress they feel in the construction industry comes from simply being disorganized -- and procrastinating. Teach your construction employees to set more realistic goals and deadlines on a regular basis -- 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 they less stressed, but you will be too!
  • Disucuss a Career Development Plan With Employees Look ahead to see the long term benefits they can look forward to from their diligence!! (More about this in a future Maxim newsletter)
Keeping a Construction Job and a Personal Life in Balance

In the end, the key word is balance. You need to find the right balance that works for your employees as well as for you. Celebrate your team’s successes and don’t dwell on your failures.

In the last analysis, offering a work-life balance to employees is one of the best recruitment strategies; you will lose fewer staff, and will find it easier to attract new talent when it becomes necessary to go to the market.

To discuss any of the issues raised in this newsletter or if you are currently seeking to attract new staff to your organisation, please get in touch with Maxim by phone or email.

We would welcome comments on the information provided and contributions to future newsletters and web pages from all interested parties.

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