Building a modern business – and one to last

Sir Robert McAlpine's Lynda Thwaite looks at how companies in the construction sector should be adapting to the new work/life balance.

Lynda Thwaite, group director - brand, marketing and communications, at Sir Robert McAlpine.

The idea of work/life balance is nothing new, but the concept has certainly had a new lease of life in the wake of the pandemic. 

The restrictions of Covid-19 forced everyone to take stock of habitual practices and identify what was working, what was not, and from there what could be done a little better. 

When survey results have shown that we spend nearly 30 years of our lives at work, it’s unsurprising that work/life balance continues to climb up employee priority lists.

The poster child for this assessment of our working lives, leading the way in all corners of the media, is flexible working. 

Since being sent home that sunny and uncertain spring two years ago, the ‘WFH’ lifestyle has dominated the cultural programme. 

However, flexibility isn’t just about being out of the office and getting to work from home for two days a week. 

True flexibility can encompass workplace, workload, work pattern and accommodation for big life events. 

It is only by understanding these various inclusive and adaptable forms of flexibility that industries like ours, built upon front-line sitework, can truly harness its value.

We must not dismiss any tool at our disposal, and flexible working helps tackle a swathe of the key industry issues, such as construction’s mental health problem. 

Being afforded greater flexibility and increased autonomy over ‘how’ a person gets the job done could be the difference between saving a marriage or one’s health. 

With studies showing that the rate of male suicides in the sector are three times the national average, businesses must take swift action to address the issue. There is clearly much work to still be done in changing attitudes about mental health.

The accommodations of flexible working, however, can help alleviate some of these strains that turn challenges into mental health crises.

Flexible working opens up the workforce to a more diverse pool of talent; job shares, people with disabilities, and working parents to name but a few. 

The built environment industry is currently suffering from both a lack of gender diversity and a skills shortage. 

Just 13% of those in construction are women and at least 20% of construction positions available cannot be filled because of the lack of people to take the job. 

By opening up positions with this holistic view of flexibility we can solve one of the biggest challenges facing our industry today. 

But we somehow still seem to be getting in our own way. 

Did you know that working fathers’ requests for flexible working are rejected at almost twice the rate of mothers? 

Our 2021 report with Pragmatix Advisory, Flexonomics, showed that refusals to accommodate flexible working is costing businesses up to £2bn a year.

Our post-pandemic priorities do also run elsewhere. For example, it is important to ensure we consider all activity through a diversity and inclusion lens. 

Take, for example, social activities. Will any social groups be excluded by the plan? The default to drinking and golf days are over and unless our industry wants to lose out on talent to more enlightened industries, we need to become smarter and more inclusive. 

Reports have shown that 8 in 10 women in construction have felt excluded of work social events.

At Sir Robert McAlpine, we are proud to be learning, evolving and embracing this shift in the work/life balance. 

We are working out how best to harness flexibility for the good of our team. 

We are currently, for example, working with flexible working consultancy Timewise to ensure flexibility is possible for our frontline employees. 

This means working closely with onsite teams to discover what flexibility is possible on a construction project and creating blueprints for others to follow. 

We are also diversifying how we engage our employees now. For example, funds that traditionally may have gone into an entertainment budget can now establish a local fund for social value initiatives our employees can participate in. 

By no means should all traditional socials be swiped from the calendar – work drinks can be a wonderful thing! 

But the world and the workplace are moving to a more conscious place, where we understand individuals might have different needs and we must seek to accommodate them. 

A more inclusive and diverse workforce can only be a good thing, but more than that, it is a requirement of current and future workforces. 

So, if companies like ours want to be around for the next 150-plus years, we have to listen, evolve and improve as we go, or we will simply be left behind. 

Lynda Thwaite is group director - brand, marketing and communications at Sir Robert McAlpine.

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