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UK contractors find jobsite flextime doesn’t slow work

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Dive Brief:

  • A pilot program to test flexible work schedules on jobsites conducted by four major construction firms in the U.K. found that workers’ sense of wellbeing increased, while overtime hours decreased, without negatively impacting project schedules or budgets.
  • Run by flexible working consultancy Timewise, the pilot included Skanska UK, BAM Nuttall, BAM Construct and Willmott Dixon, which collectively employ 11,000 people. Various schedules, individual days off and staggered shift approaches were tested across a range of sites, including London’s HS2 high-speed rail infrastructure project.
  • “Our new approach to flexible working is giving people a better work-life balance and is making construction an attractive career choice,” said Andrea Singh, human resources director for BAM Construct UK, in a statement. “We now ask, ‘how can we make flexibility work?’ and not, ‘can we make it work?’ Managers are finding flexible approaches that work for their team and clients,” she said.

Dive Insight:

The grueling schedule of construction work has been highlighted by industry officials as a barrier to entry for new workers considering the field, but the pilot’s results could offer a model for U.S. contractors to attract workers post pandemic.

Young salaried workers often become burned out because of the demanding hours and lack of flexibility in construction jobs, said Brian Turmail, vice president of public affairs and strategic initiatives for the Associated General Contractors of America.

“They see their friends in other fields telecommuting half the time or leaving work for a while in the middle of the day to pick up their kids,” he said. “It’s really difficult to do this in construction jobs because of the nature of the industry.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic forced contractors to change how and when they work, however, the pilot’s results provide data to help contractors use that momentum now to continue flex models to win talent in the future. Teleworking among construction office workers became common during the pandemic, as did staggering shifts on construction sites to limit the amount of workers at any given time and promote social distancing.

Turmail confirmed that AGC is currently planning to collect flextime data from its members in the U.S. construction industry with its upcoming workforce survey, which will be issued later this summer.

The U.K. study, conducted from June 2020 through February 2021 during the pandemic, tested six types of flex work schedules across different sites:

  • Team based: Management consulted workers and took personal preferences into account in setting schedules, similar to flextime models used for health care workers.
  • Flex-day: Workers could accumulate additional hours in exchange for one day off each month. Since many workers were commuting great distances to work, adding a flex-day onto a weekend helped them spend extended time at home.
  • Earlier start and finish times.
  • Output based: The foreperson breaks down weekly and daily goals, and sets work hours based on outputs needed to be achieved each day.
  • Staggered shifts: Start times rotate for different teams each week, so that all workers get the pattern they want every other week. Workers are given a choice of break times.
  • Hour limits: Hours worked were limited to 45 per week, inclusive of breaks.

While none of the firms involved in the pilot reported negative impact on budgets or schedules, workers reported numerous benefits in post pilot surveys:

  • Participants who felt their work hours gave them enough time to look after their own health and wellbeing rose from 48% to 84%.
  • Workers who said they regularly work beyond their contracted hours decreased from more than half, to just over a third (51% to 34%).
  • Workers’ sense of guilt decreased. The portion of workers who said they felt guilty if they started later or finished earlier than others on site fell from 47% to 33%.
  • Trust in colleagues working remotely improved. The number of workers who agreed with the phrase “if someone works from home, I am not sure they are working as hard as they would be on site,” fell from 48% to 33%.

“Our involvement in the Timewise flexible working trial aligns with our focus to support our people to be at their best, and create inclusive environments which attract a wider diversity of people into the industry,” said Adrian Savory, CEO of BAM Nuttall. “The results of the pilots have demonstrated flexibility for operational roles is possible, and has been a win, win, win — for the business, teams and improving individuals’ wellbeing.” 

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