Business sector: Construction 
Number of employees: 1,200 in UK business 

 

Key themes from the case study

  • Line managers have to be able to trust their colleagues in order for flexible working to work well.
  • Being open and honest about flexible working intentions and communicating flexible working schedules are important for colleagues to be able to work well together and be inclusive of those who work flexibly.
  • Begin changing negative perceptions around flexible working by:
    • providing flexible working guidance and support from the People and Culture Team
    • challenging traditional mindsets which emphasise importance of visibility over productivity and output
    • communicating examples of where flexible working has been implemented successfully
    • finding out managers’ reasons for reservations about flexible working.
  • It is better to focus on output and results rather than whether someone is in the office. If the productivity of a team/individual doesn’t change, flexible working is not having a negative impact on the business and employees are able to benefit from it.

Overall lessons learned

  • There is increasing uptake of flexible working at Lendlease through informal 
    arrangements and the majority of line managers are encouraging some form of flexible working: ‘One of the proudest moments for us is being able to change managers’ behaviours and culture so that people feel that they can apply for flexible working and that it is accepted.’
  • It is often easy to forget about site-based workers and it is important to understand how best to introduce flexible working into site-based construction roles, to accommodate both the business and individuals’ needs.
  • Be open-minded about flexible working, as it is the right way to treat staff. ‘We are in the people business, so look after your people.’
  • Communicate flexible working learning and guidance via different avenues, not just through emails (for example lunch meetings on site, visits from the People and Culture Team, regular flexible working marketing to different areas of the business, liaison with Health and Safety Team, who give quarterly updates).

Organisational context

Lendlease introduced its flexible working and wellbeing policies in 2012 and started to actively encourage flexible working and wellbeing initiatives to empower and retain staff and increase wellbeing. Flexible working is one of the three key pillars of Lendlease’s Global D&I strategy (Gender Equity, Flexible Working, Inclusive Workplaces). Most of the flexible working undertaken at Lendlease is done on an informal basis and arranged with the line manager. Where formal flexible working arrangements exist, they are generally the result of requests from employees who wanted to change their hours on return from maternity/paternity leave; these arrangements are agreed on a permanent basis after initial trial and review. 

The types of flexible working available at Lendlease include:

  • working from home
  • flexitime/shifted hours (for example 7:30am–4:00pm)
  • part-time
  • compressed hours
  • job-sharing
  • general flexibility (for example for when there are home emergencies): ‘there will be a time where there is a crisis situation where you will have to be at home, so this element of flexible working is important, regardless of whether you usually work flexibly or not.’ 

There are also examples of other flexible working initiatives at local, team levels within the business. For example, one line manager talked about a flexible working rota used across the project team (16 team members). Each week one member of the project team takes ownership for the weekly rota and staff pick a morning where they can come in later or an afternoon where they leave early (flexitime). The general culture on a project site was described as, ‘we don’t watch the clock either’, so that employees feel they can be flexible if needed. 

At Lendlease, flexible working is intertwined with general wellbeing and mental health support, aiming to approach employee health and wellbeing in a holistic manner. As well as flexible working opportunities, Lendlease also encourage employees to use ‘wellbeing days’ (additional days of leave that an employee can take to focus on their wellbeing). Wellbeing days also help to encourage conversations about wellbeing at work and employees are encouraged to have a wellbeing plan as part of their development. This has been in place for about 18 months and people generally take the recommended one wellbeing day per quarter: ‘because it is drummed into the culture people regularly say, “have you had your wellbeing day this quarter?” and it seems to be working really well.’

Lendlease recognises that flexible working is important to employees and wants to build its brand to become ‘an employer of choice’ in line with its values around employee wellbeing and flexible working opportunities, particularly given the high suicide rates within the construction industry. To do this, those recruiting people into the organisation talk about the flexible working policy early on in the recruitment process and when on-boarding new starters. They are finding that some new employees mention joining Lendlease particularly because of its flexible working policies and the organisation recognises that their flexible working policy can give them a competitive advantage: ‘It’s not about share price or winning more business. I think it’s genuinely about becoming more diverse and retaining more staff and through that we can provide a better product to our clients.’

To promote diverse and flexible working practices, Lendlease is conducting a pilot of flexible working on two construction sites and two control sites for comparison. The aim of this pilot is to explore the impact of flexible working, with a view to rolling out flexible work practices more widely. The aims of the project are threefold: 

  1. Work with managers to raise awareness of the benefits of flexible working and gather information about managers’ views and concerns to be addressed at the implementation stage.
  2. Conduct pre- and post-evaluations of flexible working to examine the impact on health and wellbeing, performance and productivity.
  3. Conduct a series of interviews with site managers and staff to explore how flexible working is being put into place, and identify any barriers and facilitators that may influence the outcome.

Flexible working in non-traditional and/or senior roles

Non-traditional roles

  • Project/on-site workers doing construction work.
  • Shared parental leave (men and women can take up to six months of shared leave on full pay).

Senior roles

  • Senior examples of employees working part-time and working from home (for example head of marketing working four days a week).
  • Senior site-based women in construction (for example one senior construction manager works shifted hours and leaves early on a Friday).

Gaining senior and line manager buy-in

  • Promotion and usage of flexible working from the top–down: There are a number of examples of senior members of staff working flexibly and actively promoting flexible working. Such examples help to show that senior management appreciates the importance of flexible working arrangements, and are supportive of and encourage employee uptake. ‘There’s been a real effort by senior management to promote wellbeing day use and things like sabbaticals, so employees can see it applied at the top of the organisation and don’t feel ashamed to take a wellbeing day and don’t see it as a negative thing.’ 
  • Organisational culture: The buy-in for flexible working from line managers and leaders within Lendlease is not just from a legal standpoint but, more importantly, from a cultural perspective in line with the organisation’s values. ‘The culture is geared from the top to say we support flexible working and we support employees to do it.’ 
  • Buy-in on a global level: Global leadership team members have communicated their own personal flexible working experiences and how they have used/plan to use flexible working arrangements within their roles. These personal case studies and testimonials have been sent out via the Global Annual Updates and through the Lendlease portal. The Executive Leadership Team also visited various sites to speak with employees about flexible working and wellbeing days and talk about personal examples of how they used flexible working/wellbeing days themselves. ‘It’s important to have that presence and endorsement from the top down.’ 

Facilitators to implementing flexible working 

  • Managers agreeing flexible working on an informal basis: Managers can agree flexible working within their own teams. Since most of the flexible working at Lendlease tends to be done on an informal basis, managers are empowered to make decisions without seeking permission from senior levels. Keeping flexible working informal means that ‘it is an agreement with your line manager and about how the project can accommodate flexible working in a way that suits the individual and the project. It can’t all be one-sided, otherwise it’s not sustainable for anybody.’
  • Culture around flexible working: As the culture of supporting flexible working is growing at Lendlease, employees are starting to feel empowered to push back when pressure gets too high and to recognise the need not to neglect their own health. A manager gave an example of how it can be difficult to avoid pressurising your staff when you are under pressure yourself; however, when staff push back, it’s a reminder that employee wellbeing must not be ignored as a result: 

    ‘It’s hard when you are under pressure as a manager to not over-pressure your staff as well and there needs to be that push back and confidence from staff to say “this is too much, I need some time for myself.”’

    Another flexible worker talks about the culture being an important aspect to relieve any feelings of guilt: ‘I know I’m not going to get that look from the corner of someone’s eye when I have to go, because I have to pick my daughter up.’ 
  • Openness and supportiveness from managers and leaders: Having a manager who is open to and supportive of flexible working arrangements can help the implementation of flexible working. A flexible worker gave an example of trying to work flexibly without speaking to their manager first, which didn’t work; however, once they spoke with their manager about their flexible working request, their manager was supportive and open to the idea: ‘I felt really confident to say, this is what will work best for me.’

    Other colleagues also echoed the importance of managers having a supportive mindset: ‘The mindset of managers is the most important thing when implementing flexible working’ and ‘having that manager support where they understand the importance of what you have to do on that particular day is really helpful.’
  • Supporting managers: The People and Culture Team can help managers who are less supportive or are unclear about the flexible working policy and the benefits of flexible working. ‘If you’ve got a manager who doesn’t quite understand the policy or what we are trying to achieve as an organisation, it’s great that we have the formal application because then the People and Culture function can talk to the manager and help them understand how this can benefit the business and that we don’t want to lose talent over small flexible working changes.’ 
  • Being clear and up front with colleagues: Being clear and speaking to colleagues about flexible working arrangements so that they are aware of any changes was reported to facilitate flexible working: ‘be open and say that if there is a meeting booked after 4pm, I won’t be there.’ In addition, an employee noted that they block out their diary for when they are not in the office so that colleagues are absolutely clear when they are unavailable. Being strict with your flexible working arrangement is also important so that colleagues work around your flexible working arrangements when possible, ‘Saying no is actually okay.’
  • Skills shortage in construction and the importance of retaining staff: Because of the skills shortage in construction, flexible working has been a way of opening up the pool of potential employees. Recently, there has been a drive to recruit more women into the business, and flexible working arrangements have grown alongside this. Additionally, Lendlease recognises that it is just as important to retain staff and skills that are already within the company, so introducing flexible working enables employees to remain in work.
  • A holistic approach to wellbeing: The organisation is committed to supporting employees’ health and wellbeing through a number of different initiatives (for example, the flexible working policy and wellbeing days). The message, as understood by those interviewed, is ‘to not be a slave to the job; if there’s pressure that puts you in a place of stress, then it’s not going to help wellbeing. The business helps employees to organise themselves so that they can find time for their own wellbeing.’

    Additionally, another colleague noted, ‘it’s being able to be understanding and that there are other options, not just working five days a week, lots of hours, always in the office; we’re not just talking about flexible working, it’s also about mental health and a whole offering.’

Benefits of implementing flexible working (including any data/evidence collected)

Flexible worker perspective

Quality time and dealing with emergencies

  • Working from home allows them to take part in the school run and cuts out the long commute to work; it also allows them to get more work done as they can work uninterrupted: ‘I am way more productive and I have that quality time with my kids, which I just don’t get in the week. It adds to a sense of wellbeing which is really important to me.’
  • There also may be times where unavoidable emergencies arise which require an employee to be flexible, that is, when their children are sick. Having flexibility on these occasions can be a huge plus: ‘To have an employer that, if there is a problem you can be open and honest with them and say, “I’m really sorry I’ve got to go and do x or y” and the employer says, “of course, it’s important, go and do it.” That employer knows you will catch up with the work and still deliver on your goals.’

Productivity and engagement

  • Flexible working is a more efficient way of working and often means the employee is more productive, especially as they feel valued by the organisation: ‘Employees feel like they are being supported by the organisation, then they have more pride in what they are doing and want to work hard and have good outcomes for the company. As a result the quality of output is greater.’ Loyalty and the reciprocal benefit that flexible working can have for both the employee and the organisation was also mentioned: ‘As an employee, you will always support a company who supports you.’

Line manager perspective

Avoiding stress, positive atmosphere

  • Sometimes the benefits are not necessarily tangible: seeing the team working well together/talk to each other, feeling comfortable and in the right mood at work and not feeling under pressure are all positive signs. ‘I don’t think people should look too hard for the tangible evidence, the downsides to not doing it [flexible working] are hidden under the surface. When someone has a breakdown, there’s no warning, it just happens. The tangible benefits for me are that I don’t have anyone off with stress.’ 

HR perspective

Continuing working and avoiding commuting

  • Flexible working gives employees the ability to continue working, where without flexible working they may not have been able to continue/return to work: ‘People have been enabled to stay in their roles, whether that’s been because they have come back from parental leave or because they have now found that they have caring responsibilities, whether it’s a partner or an elderly parent.’ Another personal benefit was the difference between working in London and being able to work closer to home, which not only reduces their commute, but also increases the time they have to spend on home life.

Challenges/barriers to implementing flexible working

Flexible worker perspective

  • Managing work–life balance: One flexible worker noted that they don’t always have a good work–life balance because of trying to juggle so many things at work and home, though they noted that this is a conscious choice: ‘I’m exhausted all the time, but that’s because I have chosen to work full time.’
  • Missing out on informal conversations with colleagues: One of the challenges faced by one flexible worker was that they regularly miss out on informal conversations with senior colleagues (that is, water cooler/canteen/after-work drinks conversations). ‘The issue I have is that a lot of conversations happen over a beer. Well I’m not going to be there because I have to pick the kids up, so I don’t get to have that conversation.’ It is a challenge for flexible workers to manage this without compromising on their home life.
  • Team meetings being booked outside of work schedule: There are instances when the team/colleagues have booked meetings outside of a flexible worker’s schedule, which sometimes results in the flexible worker having to miss the meeting or leave half-way through: ‘There are times where I have felt really uncomfortable having to walk out of a meeting full of senior managers and that’s unfair.’

Line manager perspective

  • Trust: A line manager talked about the importance of trusting your employees to work flexibly: ‘It’s very easy, because there is no line, for people to misinterpret where the informal lines are for flexible working. You have to not assume the worst all the time; you’ve got to trust employees.’ Where trust is abused you might have to turn to a formal HR process: ‘Ultimately, if there is someone in the business who isn’t performing as they should be, they need to be managed out of the business. That’s difficult to do if you haven’t set formal proceedings and can take a lot longer.’
  • Abuse of flexible working policy: There have been examples where a minority of employees take advantage of the flexible working policies: ‘There may be some employees who take it too far.’ They have to carefully consider some formal applications for working from home.
  • Mindsets: There are some employees who still have an old mindset when it comes to presence in the office, who overemphasise the importance of employees being ‘visible’. ‘Those with the old mindset who don’t believe in wellbeing and do put people under stress and pressure, “where is that person, why aren’t they here?”’ This can be a real challenge when you have to deal with this mindset.

HR perspective

  • Less buy-in in some areas: There is less buy-in towards flexible working in some areas of the business because of the nature of work (that is, not office-based) and where people managers have to juggle larger teams: ‘The challenge is with people with larger teams or those who have just not got the right idea and attitude towards flexible working.’
  • Worries around productivity and operational pressure: Some managers are concerned over the effect of flexible working on productivity and how it might increase operational pressures and risk failing to fulfil customer and business needs. There is also sometimes a concern about the idea of having to agree all flexible working arrangements: ‘If I agreed it for one person, I have to agree it for everyone.’
  • Appropriateness to the job role: Certain types of flexible working may not be appropriate to certain roles and jobs, so this is a conversation that needs to be had earlier on. For example, some roles are designed to be shift work and it may be not possible to change the working pattern given the nature and requirements of a particular role.
  • Attitudes and perceptions of flexible working: It can be difficult to change the thinking and perceptions of flexible working: ‘the barriers aren’t the traditional ones around offering flexible working, they are around getting managers and employees to understand how we might be able to make it work – and that’s an ongoing battle.’

Overcoming the barriers and challenges

Flexible worker perspective

Making connections when office-based

  • To counteract missing out on the informal conversations with colleagues, one flexible worker talked about making a conscious effort to surround themselves with lots of people (for example near the kitchen area) and consciously trying to talk to colleagues and catch up with what is going on when working in the office. ‘I’m lucky in the sense that I have worked for Lendlease for 24 years, so I have been out for beers with most people before I had kids. So I have those relationships.’ Although this might seem less productive on the surface, it helps with: decision-making processes, creating ideas, getting people on board with projects, and so on, via the informal interactions.

Forward planning of work events

  • Forward planning is important for attending any meetings/presentations/events that are out of the flexible worker’s usual hours of working, in order to make the necessary arrangements at home, such as child care, and so on.
  • Colleagues also need to forward-plan so that the flexible worker is made aware early on, in case they need to make arrangements to attend a work event/meeting.
  • When thinking about flexible working on a construction site, work schedules need to be planned so that the site is covered at all times; without proper planning, the site may not be able to fully function and this could result in a closure. 

Being open and honest about your flexible working intentions

  • It is important to be up front and honest about your flexible working intentions and is also the flexible worker’s responsibility to make sure colleagues know about their working schedule. Being honest also means you remove feelings of guilt about working flexibly: ‘This means that you are authentic, you’re not pretending and therefore your own wellbeing is improved as a result.’

Line manager perspective

Changing negative perceptions of flexible working

  • To gain manager support for flexible working, a line manager suggested focusing on challenging mindsets and traditional thinking by showing the benefits of flexible working for individuals and the organisation, and working on their doubts by proving it isn’t a negative thing.
  • Flexible working has no cost to the line manager, but clock-watching can damage an employee–manager relationship: ‘If you are going to tell someone off for being 10 minutes late, where does that get you? It doesn’t bring you any benefits, just upsets the member of staff.’ 

Trusting employees

  • It is important to try and develop the trust between a line manager and employee if flexible working is going to be successful. However, you need to also be mindful that the trust could be abused; in these cases you may need to pull back on some of the freedom and benefits that staff receive: ‘If you get to a place where you cannot trust them anymore, then unfortunately some of the benefits need to be withdrawn and you need to become a bit more regimented in how you address that problem.’

HR perspective

Shifting mindsets in those who don’t support flexible working

  • Lendlease are working hard to change the mindset of managers/senior managers within areas that are resisting flexible working, to encourage them to be open to flexible working, by highlighting examples where flexible working works well and has positive outcomes to both the business and individual: ‘More examples of flexible working where it is working well, will change the nay-sayers to yes people.’
  • Where managers don’t support flexible working and have a more traditional style of managing projects, it is about finding out the root to these barriers, to try and understand how negative attitudes around flexible working can be overcome: ‘There is still an attitude in some areas of business where it’s, “do I have to agree to this?” and actually it’s about thinking why they are saying that. Are they just not an advocate of flexible working or is there a reason why the business can’t support this?’

Availability of flexible working guidance and support

  • Having flexible working guidance available is helpful for staff to be able to draw upon when implementing/agreeing flexible working.
  • Support from a diversity and inclusion manager who talks about flexible working at inductions and supports people managers with flexible working guidance and communication can help managers who are unclear about how to implement flexible working.
  • Lendlease also have an annual framework for mid-year reviews (around employees’ careers in general and to have conversations around flexible working), for which managers get a reminder through their ‘workday system’. There are also other reminders and prompts for managers with details about what to talk to staff about.

Support from leadership team

  • The People and Culture Team creates events where they meet with the Executive Leadership Team and think through what support might be needed to help increase the uptake of flexible working, wellbeing and mental health initiatives.
  • The People and Culture Team also informs leaders of the statistics on the uptake of initiatives such as flexible working and the demographics of who is using the flexible working policy (gender, age, and so on) to keep it fresh in the minds of senior leaders to continue promoting and encouraging flexible working throughout the organisation.

How to measure and evaluate the impact of flexible working

  • Continued project-level productivity: As long as targets are being met and project-level productivity is unchanged or better, flexible working is having a positive impact: ‘It’s about results; if the team are doing what they are paid to do, then who cares what hours they work and how many days they are here?’ 
  • Quality of work versus quantity of time spent in the office: Quality of work is important rather than being present in the office space: ‘Are you achieving your goals and the organisation goals? And are the goals not only being met, but are you delivering above and beyond? For example, delivering quality reports where the customer is really pleased with them.’
  • Difficulty in measuring the full benefits and impact of flexible working: A manager noted the difficulty of having a tangible way of measuring the impact of flexible working. They noted that good temperament of employees and a highly motivated team are good indicators but are not necessarily a direct result of flexible working alone: ‘I don’t know how I can demonstrate it; if I had to put metrics to flexible working I would find it very difficult.’ 
  • People survey (every six months): This bi-annual survey allows employees to comment on their view of their line manager and the organisation and also has a number of questions focused on flexible working and wellbeing. The results of the survey provide five to six key focus areas for managers: ‘It allows me as a manager to know where to focus on the team, and whether we have forgotten to reward and recognise employees for what they are doing.’ 
  • Future work to explore the implementation of flexible working across the business: Lendlease are aiming to consider flexible working data across the organisation to understand uptake across the various levels and areas of the business. They also want to understand how flexible working and wellbeing initiatives might be influencing retention within the organisation.

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