Are you expecting a serious spike in incidents?
We’ve all had to return to work after a holiday, how does it feel? How engaged and focused do you feel? And that’s after just two weeks, how about a month or even seven weeks?
People returning to work is going to be a seriously challenging time for safety in many industries, I believe no more so than in the construction industry. Some large construction companies chose not to shut down and the debate as to whether that was right or wrong is for another time. Right now, I want to focus on those that did.
Why construction in particular? Two reasons, the inability to do the work remotely and the reliance on supply chain.
As a behavioural change specialist, I have worked in many industries both as a consultant and in-house for a Tier 1 construction company. This has given me some understanding of the unique way in which the industry works.
As a consultancy we’re lucky, we can conduct culture surveys, courses and presentations online, but you can’t build a building from home (yet).
Unlike most organisations, construction companies don’t employ the majority of people who work on their sites. This means that they have to rely on supply chain staff to complete most of the construction work. This reliance is what makes the return to work so difficult.
This period of shutdown has been an extremely testing time for the supply chain. Made up of mostly SMEs with little or no capital, some will not make it. Of the ones that do, some will be clinging on by the skin of their teeth.
Returning to work for these companies will become a little like Supermarket Sweep – Grab as much as you can as quickly as you can to try and recover.
For some, this time of isolation has been quite simply hell. The worry over future work and money has tested many relationships and the inability to give each other space has not helped. Google has seen an increase in the search “wine delivery UK” of 2,250 per cent in the last month while “alcohol delivery” searches have increased by 250 per cent in the same time span.
Stress and alcohol both have an amazing ability to shred sleep, not only affecting the length that we get but the quality too.
Poor quality sleep has a serious knock-on effect on our life and our relationships as it “sedates” our higher functions, meaning that we are using more of our emotional brain, we are in effect “running on pure emotion”, which I know from personal experience is never a good thing.
I am in no way claiming to be a financial expert (I’m a psychologist but behavioural economics is not my thing). I’m more interested in the impact on people.
Some SMEs have been able to furlough their staff, those staff are still awaiting payments. My partner is amongst this group of workers, the time between being furloughed and receiving payment has been one month so far with no payment (at time of writing). We’re fortunate; for others, especially those used to being paid weekly, this has been a very long month.
With a further three weeks of isolation being called for by the government, many construction companies are looking at re-starting their sites, but for the supply chain at the moment, there is no end in sight.
The first solution is quite simple, pay your supply chain.
In uncertain times, many larger companies hold on to money. This has a huge impact, both on the wellbeing of the workers when they return, and on how many companies are left at the end.
The cost implications of withholding money from the supply chain are rarely identified. I know of one client who was using three companies in one geographical area, two of which through lack of payment went to the wall, the last knew that they now had a monopoly and used that to vastly increase their prices. The financial impact of not paying your supply chain can be huge, as a decreased pool of companies will always mean an increase in charges.
The second thing to think about is making as little change as possible.
As human beings we struggle with change. When the whole world is changing around us, we seek certainty and regularity where we can, often we do this in our work. It brings us a huge amount of comfort.
Social distancing will stay in place, which will bring change and I understand that. The trick is to try to provide stability where we can.
Finally, where change is necessary, involve your workforce.
I’ve always been a huge advocate of staff involvement in making improvements. A great example of this is collaborative planning. When done well, this tool would enable stakeholders to plan how they are going to work with social distancing and how they are going to not only maintain, but improve performance.
We accept change far more readily when we are part of that change, we have ownership of it, and we don’t feel it has been forced upon us. Never has staff involvement been more necessary.
None of this is easy. I get that, this is people and when dealing with people, it is never easy. These are trying times for us all, and we know that if we do nothing, incidents will increase as we have stressed and fatigued staff under pressure to achieve deadlines and to make up on financial losses. This is the perfect recipe for incidents.
There are things that we can do. Things that will help – It’s about working with people