Inspiring Change Bitesize: Flexible & Agile Working

CECA’s Inspiring Change ‘Bitesize’ Conference took place online on 20 August 20120. CECA would like to thank all the speakers and those who attended. On this page, you can view a recording of the conference, as well as accessing other relevant resources.

CECA Southern Head of Training Briony Wickenden’s Introduction

Good morning and welcome the our first ever virtual Inspiring Change Conference.  We have a great line up of speakers – all experts on their field and on this topic and I know you will all learn from and be inspired by them.

Flexible and Agile Working, has been a recurring theme at the main conferences in the past but, this year, when most organisations have been adapting to uncertain circumstances, it is now a very hot topic and many businesses are expected to make significant changes to working patterns and shift to more widespread and regular homeworking so it made sense to have it as our theme today.

However, those of you who know me, will know that flexible and agile working has been a favourite hobby horse of mine for years. Indeed, Alasdair Reisner, CECA’s CEO said a few years back that if you’ve had a conversation with Briony and she’s not mentioned flexible working you’ve not been listening. There are a number of reasons why I consider it to be such a no brainer and these are all well documented.

In my opinion are two major issues within the sector that I consider would go a long way to being solved if only we had the will and the culture to adopt flexible working as the norm.  I see reluctance to do so as obstacle that need to be overcome in order to attract and retain the best talent and a more diverse workforce. Please don’t think for one moment that I’m talking about women and working mothers in particular!  There are many people who want to work flexibly as we’ll hear today. As people stay in work longer and possibly have to balance work with caring responsibilities for older relatives or just simply want a better work/life balance, the desire and need for flexible working will only increase.  The business case for keeping hold of older workers is clear:

  • Their expertise and experience has taken years to acquire – and would cost a fortune to replicate.
  • They can act as mentors for more junior members of the team, offering guidance and encouragement to help them get ahead.

I’ve worked in this industry for a long time and I do strongly believe that most, if not all, roles within construction can become flexible, it just takes the will and a change in culture to take the first steps.

I’ve heard all the arguments over the years as to why flexible working doesn’t work in construction and I also know the mental health statistics. We’ve woken up to the problem in recent years and  most organisations are taking some action to improve employee well-being, rightly encouraging people to talk about their mental health, suggesting more exercise and better diets.  Every article I read over the weekend on mental health in construction cited the long hours culture and rigid shift patterns as a major cause of the stress and illness suffered by so many in our industry. Yet not one of those articles suggested that we do anything to fix them. To me the evidence is unequivocal and if we don’t take a holistic approach and tackle the causes of workplace stress, rather than the symptom we will continue to see the highest rates of suicide amongst construction workers. The UK mental health charity Mind points out that flexible hours – which give employees greater control over the precise hours they work can provide important benefits for those coping with mental illness.  Doesn’t it therefore make sense to talk about flexible and agile working.

Finally, the FIR Programme is all about promoting the business benefits of having a Fair, Inclusive and Respectful culture and there are tangible business benefit to be had by those organisations that offer flexible and agile working. Those of you who’ve been on the inspiring change conference journey will know that a couple of years ago we featured a case study from BAE systems where the then head of employee relations spoke about how he had introduced flexible working into the shipyards on the Clyde. The workers who were sceptical initially concerned that they would face a reduction in take home pay soon realised the benefits the grandfathers who most relished their new working patterns finding that they had time to enjoy their grandchildren and take an active role in their care and like all good businesses BAE measured the results which were increased productivity – up by 17%, reduction in sickness and absence down from 4.3% – 1.8%, business processes fundamentally improved, excellent safety performance and the list goes on.   I’d encourage you to catch up with that case study on the CECA website, it’s fascinating.  Additionally, I know that my colleagues at Build UK are supporting a pilot with Timewise to help those businesses involved identify the benefits and practical solutions of flexible working in construction and I look forward to hearing about the outcomes.

So enough from me and my soapbox, and on to today – I’m going to hand over now to my friend and colleague, Manon Bradley who will be chairing the first panel session.

I’m not one who shies away from controversy so I’m going to be bold and suggest that as well as having the conversation about how someone is feeling we also have a conversation about the root causes and how we can fix them and if we do fix the long hours culture and the rigid shift patterns perhaps we will have fewer conversations and start to see a reduction in suicide rates.

  • Employee retention: This is probably the most important benefits of flexible working arrangements. Offering the option strengthens employee loyalty to a company as encouraging long-term commitment. Which enhances the company culture and reduces the costs associated with recruiting and training new employees.
  • Productivity: Stressed and over-worked employees are more likely to take more sick days or quit their job than ones who aren’t. Flexible working can help tackle stress by promoting a happier, loyal and more balanced workforce.
  • Recruiting: Offering flexible contributes to attracting potential recruits as much as attractive pay packages does. Research shows that it’s among the top considerations for employees looking for their new role. Workers are now more likely to prioritise companies that offer flexible working hours, as opposed to ones that don’t.

Watch a recording of the conference above. A copy of the slides is available to downloadhere.

Further resources: