Is happiness the answer to construction’s productivity problem?

Happiness is key to workers’ productivity. Building teams as well as buildings is part of the key to solving construction’s productivity conundrum, says Nicky Rance.

Very simply put, construction is about building things. But while the end result is ultimately plain to see – a new bridge, a shining office block or stadium – what is less visible is the team building that goes into successful projects. It is said that a happy worker is a productive worker, and construction sites are no exception.

That construction faces something of a productivity problem is by now well known. And while boosting onsite morale is not the sole answer – improvements in how the sector uses technology being equally key – it is, nonetheless, one of the key factors underpinning productivity. As research from Oxford University’s Saïd Business School has found, workers are 13% more productive when happy.

How can an industry whose stock in trade is building go about constructing happy teams? Ultimately, there are two parts to the answer: the formal and the informal.

The formal

When it comes to formally creating teams, it is vital that everyone on a project understands what they are doing from the first day. It sounds obvious, but construction’s recent history is replete with stories of delays being caused by a lack of understanding of who was responsible for what.

“The most productive team is the one that is able to communicate openly and work collaboratively towards the best end result.”

Nicky Rance

To create teams, then, those responsible for a site must clearly set out each individual’s role, to avoid any duplications or gaps and define the team’s ethos. Each person on site must also feel comfortable to effectively communicate any issues or necessary changes that may affect the project.

The most productive team is the one that is able to communicate openly and work collaboratively towards the best end result. To quote Aristotle: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, and construction is no exception to this.

The informal

What are decidedly less clear are the informal considerations: it is one thing to create a team, another to create colleagues. Be it elevenses on site through to trips to local attractions and projects with schools in a site’s vicinity, what we might call extracurricular activities are not a sideshow to the main project, but a key consideration. These activities not only boost team morale, but create real bonds that instil a drive to support one another to achieve their common goal.

What’s more, engaging with the local community helps engender a real sense of pride in the project and how the team’s handiwork will ultimately be used. Pride breeds purpose, and purpose breeds productivity.

There’s a final consideration, too. What is needed is more than just the odd trip to the local. That’s not to say such events don’t have a place in the modern business world, but that true teams will be inclusive, and this extends to the events that are hosted. Here lockdown, forcing companies to look into non-pub based entertainment catalysed a sea-change in thinking, giving rise to an increase in volunteering activities.

And with research suggesting millennials will pick an employer based on their ethical credentials, such forms of entertainment will create productive teams not just for now, but for the future, too.

Nicky Rance is project director at Sir Robert McAlpine.

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  1. Yes – all very well but given the pushing of risk down the supply chain to sub and sub sub contractors and the use of labour only sub contracting means that all of the talk of creating team is at best superficial management speak at worst another example of using management language to cover up the inequalities within the construction sector. More importantly in creating goodwill and therefore teams are aspects such as contracts used, and the terms within those contracts – what are your payment terms? Do use use IPD contracts? do you include sub contractors in the integrated delivery team? What about self employed labour? Presumably when you say about a millennial choosing an employer you are talking about with a main contractor / developer and not those subject to ‘flexible’ employment contracts further down the supply chain. Does the self employed construction worker feel empowered to ‘communicate openly’???

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