Five-day workweek boosts construction worker wellbeing

A five-day workweek for construction workers can reduce stress and improve worker wellbeing, with minimal perceived impact on productivity, according to a new report.

Construction workers typically work six days a week, but research tracking a five-day workweek in the industry has demonstrated a number of significant benefits while reducing risks commonly associated with the industry.

The interim report, led by RMIT University in collaboration with the Construction Industry Culture Taskforce (CICT), tracked five pilot infrastructure projects trialling a five-day workweek to address challenges such as the lack of time for life, poor health and wellbeing, and difficulty in attracting a diverse workforce.

A survey conducted at three of the pilot sites found 84 per cent of workers on an annual salary and 61 per cent of workers on an hourly wage were in support of a five-day workweek compared to a six-day workweek.

Having more time for life outside work was the most common reason workers supported the five-day workweek, according to project lead and RMIT distinguished professor Helen Lingard.

“We found the majority of workers, irrespective of gender, preferred a five-day workweek because it allowed them to spend more time with their family, see their friends or play sports,” said Lingard, from RMIT’s School of Property Construction and Project Management.

Chief investigator and RMIT associate professor, Michelle Turner, said having a two-day weekend was important to allow workers to rest properly before another workweek began.

“The advantage of being well rested not only helps with productivity but improves wellbeing and mental health,” she said.

Workers interviewed talked about “a better state of mental wellbeing” and said the shorter workweek was “a massive step in the right direction”.

This backs previous findings through Lingard and Turner’s prior research with the CICT, which found young people were deterred from joining the construction industry because of the long and inflexible hours and lack of time for life.

“We are seeing a shift in priorities in the next generation of workers, and the construction industry needs to adapt to attract and retain good workers,” Lingard said.

Chair of the CICT and interim chief commissioner of Infrastructure Australia, Gabrielle Trainor, said cultural change in the industry is one of the key ways to address the acute skills shortage that has led to escalating labour costs and stagnant productivity in an industry that has so many other reasons to be a place to have a great career.

“The Culture Standard, designed to be part of the procurement process, means a level playing field for contractors and government clients buy-in, project by project, to creating better, safer, and more equitable work environments and support construction to become an industry of choice,” she said.

Trainor said the lack of work and life balance faced by many construction workers can cause significant stress, relationship issues and reduced productivity: “It is a leading reason people exit the industry,” she said.

“However, the five-day work schedule preferred by the workers in the study allowed them to spend more time with their kids, play sport, see friends or relax, and a two-day weekend also ensured they were better rested and recovered from the workweek.

“Monday to Friday is clearly shown in this study to be the ideal. But the standard provides for the reality that not every project can work five days. These findings also demonstrate the positive benefits of a deliberate and accountable focus on ensuring no-one works excessive hours and flexibility is built in, and where measures on diversity and wellbeing are also in place to support the other key aspects of culture change women and young men are looking for.”

Despite initial concerns about productivity and pay impacts, feedback from pilot project participants indicates minimal adverse effects.

“On our Mulgoa Road Upgrade Project Stage 1, our team reported that productivity was not adversely affected by implementing the Culture Standard’s five-day workweek,” said Greg Anderson, Seymour Whyte alliance manager in New South Wales.

“With Saturdays typically seeing lower productivity across the industry, the loss of Saturday as a workday in the move to a Monday to Friday schedule was more than offset by the fact that we had a better rested, healthier and more satisfied workforce, which led to productivity improvements across the five-day week.

“We also saw positive impacts in terms of recruitment, with other workers in the industry seeking to join our project due to the five-day workweek.”