Sector - Public Sector

Can Construction Ease Back to Work?

 Ashley Doody is Chief Information Officer at the Personal Group, here he discusses how construction leaders can help with the back to work transition in a post-COVID world.

In many ways, the construction industry is the UK’s 4th emergency service: it builds and maintains the nation’s infrastructure in good times and bad. During the lockdown, its key workers kept hospitals operational, roads open and supply chains running when we needed them most — and yet the industry has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that by May 2020, nearly half (46%) of all construction workers had been furloughed.  Thankfully, as restrictions eased in July, this figure fell to just under one in six (17%) — but we shouldn’t forget the emotional, psychological and financial stresses Covid-19 has placed on hundreds of thousands of people and their families.

As the industry re-emerges from lockdown, workers are discovering a very new and different world, with changed health and safety rules and unfamiliar working conditions. Whilst some will welcome the return, others will likely find it as daunting as furlough itself.

The challenge for companies is to help their employees readjust to the new normal — to boost productivity and bring much-needed peace of mind.

Connect the unconnected  

Any change can be worrying — and one as big as a global pandemic is likely to cause significant anxiety. People need information (and lots of it it) — not least to rediscover the sense of belonging that regular contact with colleagues brought before lockdown.

Business leaders have the opportunity to re-connect with and better engage employees, wherever they work. Clearly, the construction industry presents challenges here, with a mix of office-based and geographically diverse working environments.

Not every construction worker has an email address or access to a work computer. What virtually everyone on the planet does have, however, is a smart mobile device. Organisations can harness mobile apps as a channel to connect their previously unconnected employees.

These apps can be incredibly useful tools for employers and employees alike, acting as a home for information as diverse as guidance on new regulations, social distancing rules, access to health and employment insurance policies and staff rotas — as well as person to person communication to re-establish their workplace community.

Share your story 

When jobs have been under threat, staff need to know what’s happening and how the business is responding. If companies aren’t telling the story then the vacuum can be filled with unsettling gossip. Even when companies don’t have all the answers, regular communications dispel rumours, mean that employees know when and where an update will come from and help them to feel valued.

This is also an opportunity for leaders to become more visible and accessible, giving the company a sense of personality and approachability.  Leaders can now make sure that they remain visible and accessible – whether through one-to-one catch ups with individual team members or company-wide video and email updates.

Financial wellbeing 

Lockdown has placed huge pressures on the industry, with some of its biggest names reporting significant losses in the first half of 2020. As the ONS reports that output is close to 40% below February levels, companies are understandably focused on their own recovery strategies.

This, however, shouldn’t blind them to the challenges faced by their workers. Those on furlough have, effectively, been forced to take a 20% pay cut during the lockdown, which is a significant hit on what was likely to be already tight family budgets. Many will feel the financial fallout for months and perhaps even years.

A return to profit will rely on employees, so company and worker financial viability is inextricably linked. Personal money problems have a direct impact on employee performance, so there’s a clear incentive for companies to support financial wellbeing.

With pay rises and bonuses still likely to be some way off, there are other steps that employers can take to help workers’ financial recovery. This can include recommendations for fair finance providers, impartial financial and debt advice, as well as access to discount schemes that will make the family budget go further.

New engagement for a new world 

There are few people in the construction sector who believe the easing of lockdown heralds a return to normal. The second half of 2020 is a very different place to 2019 and, in many key areas, there’s no going back.

This undeniably presents challenges, but also real opportunities for companies to build a better industry than the one they left behind. The ability to interact and therefore see employees at an individual level allows a company to support the whole person, including their physical, mental and financial wellbeing. More effective, increasingly focused and regular employee engagement will help to shape this re-energised sector and ensure that workers are at the heart of the transformation.

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