EXCLUSIVE! Time to embrace flexible working, says Sir Robert McAlpine CEO

In an exclusive opinion piece for Infrastructure Intelligence, Sir Robert McAlpine CEO Paul Hamer describes how flexible working can combat construction’s mental health and productivity crises.

Sir Robert McAlpine CEO Paul Hamer, pictured, describes how flexible working can combat mental health and productivity crises.

In October, a survey conducted by Jabra found that flexible working is now globally viewed as more important than a salary for those looking for employment. For many in the construction industry, this news may feel like it has no relevance, as we tend to assume that our work does not lend itself well to flexible working. Yet, this is simply not true. For all of the chaos of the past two years, the pandemic has at least taught us that embracing a culture of flexible and agile working is not only possible for our industry, but essential to overcoming our most pressing challenges.

Our sector faces productivity issues, and sadly, a mental health crisis. There is no one size fits all approach to solving these concerns, but, as a starting point, we need to take positive steps to empower our workforce. A big part of this will be embracing a culture of flexible and agile working.

Happiness spurs productivity

Fundamentally, flexible working offers employees a greater work life balance. It is shown to increase productivity and employee wellbeing, and there is an abundance of evidence to support this. A recent survey by Wildgoose reported that 69% of workers would be more productive if offered flexible working, and a further survey by Airtasker found that those working from home record 10 minutes more each day of productive working than their counterparts in the office. Happy and motivated employees are crucial to the success of any business, and flexible working plays a large part in their fulfilment. 

Flexible working can also open up your business to a range of candidates that would not have traditionally applied. As part of a trial to test the offer of flexible working, insurance company, Zurich, worked with the government to advertise all its roles as flexible and resulted in a 20% jump in the number of women applying for senior roles within the company and double the number of total applications. The commercial benefits of flexible working should not be overstated, and with our industry facing an unprecedented skills shortage, it will be imperative for economic recovery.

Mental health emergency

Before the pandemic, it was reported that two men working in construction take their own lives every working day. This devastating statistic highlights a crushing issue of mental health in our industry, which sadly has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

There is mounting evidence on the benefits of flexible and agile working for improving mental health. As one example, a recent survey from FlexJobs found that a staggering 84% of respondents believed flexible working would help them to better manage their mental health. This perfectly demonstrates why we need to be further investing in flexible working policies, and why these policies could be crucial to mitigating the sector-wide mental health crisis.

Looking to the future

It is pleasing to see that the government has recognised the positive changes that can be catalysed by flexible working, having recently announced that employees should be able to request flexible working from day one of a new job. Recent data from HSBC’s latest Navigator revealed that two-thirds of employers believe remote or hybrid working is crucial to their future growth as a business, so why are businesses in our sector slow on the uptake?

At Sir Robert McAlpine, we already have agile and flexible working policies in place and through our partnership with consultancy Timewise we are conducting pilot solutions to bring flexible working to our construction sites. 

The weight of the issues that our industry is facing needs cross-industry support for these movements to enact real change. It’s time to seize this opportunity and embrace the transformative abilities of flexible working.

Paul Hamer is CEO of Sir Robert McAlpine.

If you would like to contact Rob O’Connor about this, or any other story, please email roconnor@infrastructure-intelligence.com.