Bad managers can have a big impact on staff morale and productivity levels, and they could even pose a serious threat to the industry’s upturn. So why are there so many of them?

Trouble at the top

Do you think your manager is effective? If so, you’re in the lucky minority. Only one in three of us is positive about the performance of the people who manage us in the workplace, according to the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) in a recent survey.

This is a worrying statistic because if a manager is ineffective, evidence shows the team he or she is managing is ineffective too. And the result for companies is that their productivity levels drop, which should be a major concern for construction firms at a time when the sector is trying to meet the sudden upturn in demand. Many construction firms have started recruitment drives to meet demand, but if they don’t have proper procedures, policies and training in place for managers there is a risk that their efforts could be in vain.

Management is about responsibility - taking it, not passing it on. It bugs me to look at management issues that can dog companies in our industry

Allan Meek, SCS Group

Understanding the attributes of a good manager is key to cracking this problem. Across all sectors of the economy the CMI has found that 74% of managers lack empathy when making decisions and fail to consider the impact of their choices on the wellbeing and interests of colleagues. It has also found that 80% of employees don’t think their manager sets a good example. Construction firms, and perhaps contractors in particular, have not traditionally been good at dealing with “softer” skills, and instead there has been a general attitude that to get the most out of people, managers have to be tough and demanding.

Kevin Fear, head of health, safety and environment strategy at CITB, is convinced this attitude is changing. He says many contractors are now taking a progressive approach to how employees are managed, and he sees the real benefits not only for employee wellbeing but also construction firms’ bottom line.

“There is evidence that for workers who are engaged, it is largely through the actions of the manager - they feel more empowered but they also know there are expectations,” says Fear.

“Good managers are challenging, they provide boundaries. They are demanding but they protect their teams. They don’t let problems fester and they are supportive. As a result employees know what they are doing and feel valued. This is shown to result in good customer feedback and even increase profitability.”

According to Fear, contractors that have proved they can bring down accident rates on site are now also showing an interest in the health and wellbeing of their workers. “Just look at contractors like Skanska with its ‘Happier, Healthier, Safer’ mantra. Ten years ago, who would have thought contractors would be thinking about happiness?”

Trouble at the top

It may seem like a stretch to ask contractors to make employees happy, but there are good reasons to do so. According to the Engage for Success initiative, which promotes better ways of working and is supported by companies such as Wates and Babcock, employee engagement is a key element of health and safety. Its research shows that companies with low employee engagement scores have an average of 62% more accidents.

And it’s not just major contractors that are acting on the evidence - smaller firms are investing in managers too. One example is Cardiff-based SME contractor SCS Group, which was voted as one of the overall winners in The Building Good Employer Guide 2013. Allan Meek, SCS Group managing director, says: “Management is about responsibility - taking it, not passing it on. It bugs me to look at management issues that can dog companies in our industry, such as poor employee retention, training development or customer service reputation, because I genuinely believe that they can be quite easily remedied by embracing employee engagement.

“Motivation leads to success, so we promote employee ownership - of their own roles and the company as a whole - plus flexible working and training that meets their aspirations, not just the company’s. We believe in an open management structure and, above all, support when things get tricky. Finger-pointing just passes problems around inside a company; it doesn’t solve them.”

Whether big or small, most construction companies have managers who oversee other employees and it is clear is that these managers can play a pivotal role in promoting wellbeing and improving productivity in the workplace. And if managers are expected to support other employees in this way, they too need to feel supported by their companies. That often means investing in suitable training in those all important “soft skills”.

Courses for managers

Stress checklist

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development produced a report called “Preventing Stress: promoting positive manager behaviour” in 2011, which includes a list of “competencies” managers need to prevent or reduce stress at work.

These included:

  • Having integrity and showing respect
  • Managing emotions by acting calmly under pressure
  • A considerate approach through positive feedback
  • Proactive work management by monitoring workloads
  • Problem-solving to deal with issues as soon as they arise
  • Empowering teams by encouraging participation
  • Managing conflict
  • Being available to talk when necessary
  • Being sociable with the team
  • Showing empathy by listening to and taking an interest in staff.

The Building Good Employer Guide 2014

Does your firm exemplify diversity, good leadership and employee motivation? The Building Good Employer Guide is an annual celebration of the best companies to work for in the industry. Successful entrants will be featured in a supplement in October and listed on the Building website for 12 months. For a chance to be included in this year’s guide register your details at