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New working practices are needed to take the stress out of building


Sir, The Chartered Institute of Building's recent survey into occupational stress brings attention to stress in construction, but is this little too late?

The survey highlighted a damaging trend at managerial level. Stress has always been an accepted part of the industry but in the past few years the situation has worsened.

Projects have become larger, more complex and more riskintensive and clients are more demanding. Timescales are shorter and budgets tighter.

The increased scale of these projects and the added pressures they bring require enhanced management skills.

Yet most managers run projects as they always have done. The consequence has been increased stress, resulting in poor decisions and reduced effectiveness. The CIOB's survey found that 84 per cent of construction professionals felt stress in the industry was a factor for poor retention rates.

The main causes of workplace stress were poor communication, lack of feedback and inadequate staffing.

We recently undertook a project with construction contractor ISG InteriorExterior on a £6.4 million building project undertaken by Goldsmith's College.

We identified a number of critical obstacles that needed to be overcome, which closely reflect the findings of the CIOB's survey. We sought to involve staff in the development of working practices that enabled their well-being and enhanced professional effectiveness.

This involved the implementation of eight key initiatives, including set communication and forward planning procedures; flexible working arrangements; a five day week; restricted email and mobile phone use, holiday cover and a relaxed dress code. The result was a dramatic reduction of stress at every level, better work-life balance, reduced absenteeism and fewer accidents.

It is not too late to effect positive change across construction but the prevailing scepticism that has hampered attempts to implement better working practices in the industry is unlikely to disappear overnight.

The CIOB's efforts and those of other stakeholders are welcome but, until board directors and shareholders in the big companies realise that a healthy workforce is more productive, the industry will continue to lag behind its contemporaries. It is vital that managers accept that to successfully run more complex and demanding projects, they must adopt new techniques and embrace better working practices.

Jacqui Gascoyne Principal consultant Berkshire Consultancy Reading