What does flexible working look like in frontline roles? The case of construction

The government is consulting about making flexibility the default with a day-one right to request. Whilst there have been studies outlining increased flexible working opportunities in office-based jobs following the pandemic (eg Parry et al, 2021, Felsted et al, 2020), fewer have focused on opportunities for flexible working in frontline roles.

In the depths of the second nationwide lockdown of January 2021, IES and BMG conducted a survey with 1,366 responses for the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB). The survey included people working in industries that typically cannot work from home, such as construction, manufacturing, hospitality, retail and health and social care. The findings highlight what flexible working means to people in these industries, and its importance compared to other aspects of work.

Flexibility in working hours was among the most important aspects of a job for one in three respondents. Respondents were asked to rank 14 aspects of work indicating those that were important to them in the decisions they have made and will make about work in the future. The most cited top three factors were:

  1. Stability (which reflects the context in which the research was undertaken) (38 per cent),
  2. Having pride in your work (36 per cent),
  3. And joint third, helping others/making a difference, and flexibility in work hours (both 34 per cent).

Flexibility in work hours was more important to respondents in industries that more typically offer it. Hospitality and retail typically offer a choice of shift lengths and part time arrangements, whilst in construction, contractual flexible hours arrangements are less common with only around 12% of the workforce having this kind of flexibility. Survey respondents working in hospitality, retail, health and social care were more likely than average to value flexibility. In construction, considerations such as having pride in work, and stability, but also variety and change were most important in explaining work decisions.

Yet a greater proportion of people working in construction felt the industry offered flexibility than those working outside it in other sectors. Three in five respondents working in construction believed you could work flexible hours in the industry, whereas two in five of respondents (43 per cent) working in other industries felt you could work flexibly in construction. For some workers, the construction industry offers choice or control over jobs and therefore working hours (informal flexibility) rather than offering structured forms of flexible hours, such as part-time work (formal flexibility). Respondents working in construction were more likely than average to be motivated by being independent/running their own business, offering another form of control over working pattern. Given the largely male construction workforce (86 per cent[1]), this suggests choice and control over working hours is an important type of flexibility for this demographic.

What is clear from our research is that even in frontline roles which may not be seen as ‘flexible’ at first glance, employers should set out the flexibility they can offer and communicate this in their recruitment process, as well as challenging themselves about whether forms of flexibility that attract workers to other sectors could be offered. With workforce shortages in construction and beyond, and a desire to attract more diverse talent, having a clear offer around flexible working is not only desirable but a key differentiator, and is an important aspect of work for people in a wide range of sectors. Read the report here

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Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.




The Institute for Employment Studies is a centre for research and evidence-based consultancy in employment and human resource policy and practice.

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Institute for Employment Studies

Institute for Employment Studies

The Institute for Employment Studies is a centre for research and evidence-based consultancy in employment and human resource policy and practice.

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