Reduction in sickness absence noted one year on from ground-breaking flexible working pilot

27 July 2022 11:30 - BAM Construct UK Ltd
Reduction in sickness absence noted one year on from ground-breaking flexible working pilot

Hemel Hempstead, 27 July 2022 - Enhanced performance, reduced stress, increased well-being and greater job satisfaction were also noted from BAM and other partners in Timewise flexible working trial.

  • ‘One Year On’ review of the Timewise & Build UK ‘Construction Pioneers’ pilot to be published today, commissioned by CITB and four participating construction firms.
  • Programme was led by industry body Build UK and designed by flexible working experts Timewise.
  • Reviews the impact of rolling out different forms of flexible working, both offsite and onsite, with construction workers over the last year, i.e. since the pilots ended.
  • 4 major employers took part (the Pioneers): BAM Construct UK, BAM Nuttall, Skanska UK and Willmott Dixon.
  • ALL FOUR chose to continue with flexible working practices, once the pilots ended.
  • It’s believed that flexible working has since been a key contributor to improving employee satisfaction and achieving a reduction in sickness absence rates.
  • Results from the 4 firms buck the industry-wide trend for worsening rates of sickness absence post-pandemic.

Four leading firms that took part in a ground-breaking flexible working pilot, designed to test different kinds of flexible working in construction ALL continued with flexible working practices, after the 18-month pilot ended. ALL now report a decline in the rate of sickness absence, with flexible working believed to be a contributing factor.

The social enterprise and flexible working experts Timewise today publish a review of the impact of the pilot, called ‘Making Construction a great place to work – a view one year on’.

The review was commissioned by CITB and the four Pioneer Partners - BAM Construct UK, BAM Nuttall, Skanska UK and Willmott Dixon.

The findings suggest that flexible working has had a number of positive impacts – for workers in terms of reduced stress, increased well-being and for job satisfaction. For firms, in terms of enhanced performance and a reduction in sickness-related absence rates.

The Pioneer Partners all report results that buck the wider UK picture. Specifically:

  • Willmott Dixon say overall sickness absences have reduced by one third since 2019.
  • BAM Construct UK say overall sickness absences have reduced by one tenth.
  • Skanska UK report that one-day sickness absences have more than halved.
  • BAM Nuttall has seen one-day sickness absence reduce by a third.

By contrast, analysis of ONS data by Timewise shows that the national sickness absence rate in construction has increased post pandemic, from 1.4% in 2020 to 2.1% in 20211.

While flexible working won’t be the only factor reducing the sickness absence rates experienced by the four Pioneers, Timewise says the difference in the direction of travel is significant.

It is well known that sickness absences cost the industry millions of pounds a year – last estimated at £160 million in 2018, as reported by the Health and Safety at Work Executive.

The report also highlights the next barriers for the construction industry to overcome, in terms of flexible working. Key among these being the need to ensure greater fairness, by finding a way to extend flexible working to the sub-contracted workforce.

Andrea Singh, Executive Director People for BAM UK and Ireland, says: ‘We are committed to making flexible working an option for everyone at BAM. Our inclusion in the initial Timewise trial was to see what was possible in an industry which has historically found it difficult to offer flexible working arrangements for the whole workforce.  We were pleased to see positive results a year ago after the initial work we did with Timewise resulting in BAM implementing a new policy to make flexible working arrangements open to all colleagues. We know offering opportunities for a better work-life balance is the right thing to do and we are committed to ensure all our colleagues can achieve a healthy work life balance regardless of the role they hold.  Our commitment is only strengthened by the improvement we have seen in our colleagues wellbeing. The impact on our employees – and knock-on effect on productivity – is significant. Flexible working is not one size fits all. We will continue to draw on our collaborative team-based approach to ensure our employees find the best solution for them and the business –  which allows them to thrive in the workplace as they deliver quality projects for our clients.’

Emma Stewart MBE, the co-founder of Timewise who led the Construction Pioneers pilot and the review, says: ‘It’s great to see a reduction in sickness absence noted by all four Construction Pioneer firms, especially given that one of the main drivers for running the pilot programme came from concern around the sector’s poor record on mental health and well-being. Some firms are also reporting increased productivity levels through the use of hybrid working where possible, which they feel is the result of having a happier workforce. Flexible working makes both business sense and common sense.’

Suzannah Nichol is the chief executive of Build UK and commissioned the original pilot. She says: ‘Reducing the stresses of everyday life whether through less commuting, more suitable start and finish times, reduced hours or simply being able to attend an appointment without losing a day’s pay makes a huge difference. A happier workforce is more productive with greater job satisfaction, less sickness absence and better mental health – a virtuous circle that encourages more people to join our industry and enables businesses to grow.  To realise these benefits your company needs to take the next step and trial flexible working – I promise you won’t regret it.’

Tim Balcon, CITB Chief Executive says: ‘By being more flexible and inclusive, we will become a more diverse industry and open opportunities for our existing workforce, as well as new joiners from all backgrounds, to grow long lasting careers that will help meet the skills demand across the industry.’

Click here to read the full report.