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

FOUR 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 has published 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, BAM Nuttall, Skanska UK, and Willmott Dixon.


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


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

  • Willmott Dixon says overall sickness absences have reduced by one third since 2019
  • BAM Construct says overall sickness absences have reduced by 1/10th
  • Skanska UK reports 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 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’s well known sickness absences cost the industry millions of pounds a year – last estimated at £160m 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 subcontracted workforce.


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 wellbeing. 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 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 ceo 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.’
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