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

The positive impact of flexible working is confirmed in a one-year-on review of a pilot conducted in four leading construction firms.

  • 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, BAM Nuttall, Skanska UK and Willmott Dixon.
  • ALL FOUR chose to continue with flexible working practices, once the pilots ended.
  • 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.

London, 27 July 2022: 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’.********************LINK TO PDF***********

The review was commissioned by CITB and the four Pioneer Partners – BAM Construct, 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; and 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 say overall sickness absences have reduced by one third since 2019.
  • BAM Construct 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 £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 sub-contracted 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 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 MBE 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.”

Notes to editors

1 ONS, Sickness Absence in the UK Labour Market 2021, records absence rates for the construction industry of 1.7% in 2019, 1.4% in 2020 and 2.1% in 2021

About Timewise

Timewise is the UK’s leading flexible working consultancy and has been working for over 15 years with employers, recruiters, social change agents, policy makers and other stakeholders to design, implement and share innovative flexible working solutions that attract and retain talented, productive and happy people, and create fairer, inclusive workplaces. 

It is a social change business with a mission to create a healthier more equal society with a labour market where everyone has access to good flexible and part-time work. Millions of people seeking flexible work can’t access it, preventing them from progressing in work, moving to a new job or even entering the jobs market in the first place. The resulting structural inequality is a key driver for a range of wider socio-economic problems.  Our social consultancy model means that the profits we make are fed back into further research, fuelling the design of new or improved solutions and the development of campaigns for sharing insights and learnings, all designed to drive momentum, deepen impact and scale change.

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