In the first of a three-part series on achieving the right work–life balance, Andrew Garbutt of Berkshire Consultancy asks: what do you want to get out of life?
Having a better work–life balance might be what you want, but first you must understand the impetus for change and what is causing the imbalance.

The construction industry is notorious for its macho attitude to long hours and stress. But that attitude is shifting, influenced by many forces. The worsening skills shortage, for example, that threatens the ability of many businesses to meet their project and strategic targets; then there is recent legislation allowing parents of young children to request flexible working; and public sector clients who, compelled to implement work–life balance policies for their own staff, expect their suppliers to do the same.

Changing work culture
Although few organisations in this sector made it into the Sunday Times' "Top 100 Best Companies", most construction firms do now recognise that balancing employee aspirations against client demands is a key business imperative if they are to attract and retain their skilled people. This means moving towards a less stressful working environment, and adopting personnel policies flexible enough to meet the needs of Olympic triathletes, stressed-out parents and incurable workaholics.

Achieving this will inevitably be a gradual process of consultation and collaboration between staff and employers. So how can you influence this? What are your needs? And how do you then match work demands and personal requirements?

Deciding what you need
First you have to be clear about your own aspirations. This may simply mean greater flexibility around your working arrangements or it might be the opportunity to focus on your hobbies and interests or personal needs. However, achieving real "balance" is more about addressing wider organisational factors – such as having a clearer role, more effective management style, or improved time management.

Do your homework. Be clear about what your needs are and what balance means to you

The point is that no single approach fits all cases, and this is the challenge for organisations – to meet individual needs while delivering to stretching targets and demanding customer standards.

Do your homework first. Be clear on your needs and what balance means to you.

Identify what's in it for the organisation – what are the benefits to them in making any changes? Then explore some ideas and options on how this can be achieved before positioning your request.