A healthy work-life balance is one of the most popular topics discussed in business. There are many who believe that this topic will become the 21st Century’s biggest management challenge, but what exactly is the concept of a work-life balance? It’s the division of a worker’s time between work and social life. Key factors driving this critical issue are the shifting expectations of employees in work, changing demographics such as an aging workforce, and the increasing number of people juggling work and caring responsibilities.
Work-life balance is also a popular topic in the construction industry. Given the industry’s labor shortage, its long and odd work hours, and the many places of work which are unaccommodating of a proper work-life balance, workers may find it difficult to manage a healthy equilibrium. Unfortunately, poor work-life balance fosters worker conflicts and job burnout, which degrades performance and increases health and fatigue issues. In turn, these issues can derail productivity in the workplace. But businesses that address the work-life balance challenge now can not only boost productivity and quality, but also profitability and sustainability.
Achieving a Healthy Work-life Balance
Work-life balance issues increase job stress—a growing concern throughout the business world. In fact, it’s among the biggest concerns in the European Union’s working environment. Job stress decreases the feelings of well-being of workers across many industries in the EU, not just in construction,
says a recent study. It also interferes with the employees’ workflow, hinders quality, and fosters high employee turnover. Construction companies with unsupportive work-life balance environments put themselves at risk of increasing their workers’ job stress issues and, as a result, their profitability and survivability.
Companies with supportive work-life balance environments, however, generate numerous benefits, which, say Minarelli and Baroudi in
The Work-Life Balance of Construction Management Professionals, fall into three categories — business, social, and individual. The main business advantage for construction companies with a supportive work-life environment, as mentioned by the authors, is better recruitment, productivity, and better retention rates. That’s because a work-life supported environment allows workers to dictate their working arrangements through more flexibility and control, alleviating job stress.
Better recruitment and lower turnover is a huge advantage in construction as it addresses one of the industry’s
biggest challenges going forward—the growing shortage of a skilled workforce. Construction companies first started noticing the labor shortage around 2012, a trend driven by many factors including the financial crisis in 2008. Since then, the labor shortage has become more noticeable.
With construction companies launching more new projects, thanks in large part to a worldwide construction boom, the issue threatens to disrupt the industry’s growth. Anything that helps construction companies recruit skilled workers and retain them longer while boosting quality gives them a competitive advantage and boosts survivability. One way in which the construction industry can retain their workers is to implement safety training for all their contractors. Having trained contractors will boost their productivity and influence the industry’s growth.
Defining Work-Life Balance is a Challenge
Defining work-life balance is a challenge. That’s because it means different things to different people. Minarelli and Baroudi’s paper contains three acceptable definitions of the term—all from respected experts. So, one challenge for companies—construction or otherwise— is deciding what work-life balance means and how to help all employees achieve it through the right initiatives. Unfortunately, some companies launch work-life initiatives focused strictly on workers that are parents with small children, however this approach doesn’t go far enough. Companies must consider the needs of all employees—even those with different family structures and different demographics.
Regardless of what programs you initiate, one thing is certain about work-life balance for employees: It’s indeed a balancing act. How this act plays out depends on how workers manage their responsibilities. That’s a major challenge for construction workers given the industry’s nature. Construction is a demanding field—one where workers experience high levels of job stress due to time constraints, full workloads, and numerous deadlines. That makes it especially hard for workers to manage their situations which is a huge problem when it comes to work-life balance issues.
But managers can play a critical role in helping a worker achieve a good work-life balance. Managers serve as “gate keepers” for employees, providing them with information about, and access to, a company’s formal work-life benefits. Plus, they’re often the first people workers go to when they have issues due to their knowledge of the company’s work-life policies. Managers need to let staff know they’re able and available to provide help if one encounters work-life balance issues.
Let Construction Workers Know They’re Supported
Managers also need to let employees know the company supports a work-life balance environment. Also, by using initiatives designed to teach construction workers how to balance work-life issues, managers can help alleviate much of the stress people feel on the job while increasing their productivity. Some steps managers and companies can take to create a supportive work-life balance environment include:
- Maintaining structural consistency by creating a stable work environment
- Offering meaningful and beneficial community engagement opportunities
- Allowing schedule flexibility for employees that need it
- Engaging in team building exercises to foster a sense of solidarity
- Encouraging construction workers to take much-needed vacations
- Creating short breaks throughout the day to stave off burnout
- Allowing for unpaid time off for life events
- Making sure managers are good models for a work-life balance
- Creating an approving work-life balance culture
- Allowing for sufficient safety training
- Reminding employees of their habits and tendencies
Managers and companies also need to ask for guidance from employees. Who better to query about their needs than the workers themselves. Holding regular meetings, either one-on-one, or in a group, to discuss about the needs of the employees is a great method of understanding employees’ needs.
Work-life balance is a growing management issue, make no mistake about that. Some think it will be the key management issue of the 21st Century. Any company that wants to survive in the future will need to create a supportive work-life balance environment—especially if the company is in the construction industry. The long term benefits for organizations that support work-life balance greatly outweigh any policy changes or temporary inconveniences they may experience. These benefits can help construction companies beat what may be considered the top challenge in the industry today—recruiting and retaining experienced, highly skilled construction workers.