Building wellbeing and productivity across the workforce 29 September 2023 September marked Mental Health Awareness Week. But boosting the wellbeing of workers in the trades is a year-round priority. We know wellbeing remains a big issue. We’re seeing significant numbers of employees leave the sector. Some head to Australia or find better conditions elsewhere. While the promise of higher pay and Gold Coast beaches might sound attractive, our research shows something else. Most people leaving the construction industry are doing it because of a lack of career development and poor workplace culture. At a time when many employers are still looking for skilled workers, retaining good people is hugely important. Despite some areas seeing a slowdown, the Waihanga Ara Rau Workforce Information Platform is forecasting $282 billion of work in our five-year rolling forecast. If all the projected projects go ahead as planned, we’d need to double our skilled workforce. Meeting that demand requires increasing the pipeline of workers coming into the industry and rethinking our culture to make our workplaces more attractive places for all kinds of people. Increasingly, employers in the industry realise that investing in their people’s overall wellbeing isn’t some “woke” exercise with no relevance to their business. Not only does it help them hang on to good workers, boosting wellbeing and job satisfaction also makes for more productive teams. We hosted the Thriving People, Thriving Industry Summit in September, bringing together people from across construction and infrastructure, including Māori and Pasifika business leaders, to share best practice, insights and tips. The focus was harnessing the power of diversity, wellbeing and culture to drive productivity. We heard from leaders across the sector and have summarised their top tips for building a more engaged workforce: Get to know workers more as people. In an industry where you’re expected to be physically demanding and practically minded, workers have often been reluctant to be seen as “weak” by sharing personal worries. Likewise, the realities of a construction site, where everyone is moving around, making a lot of noise, and busy on projects that require a lot of focus and hard labour, don’t create many opportunities to chat. However, a culture encouraging people to “bring their full selves” can significantly boost productivity by helping create connections and building trust. Research from US professional training firm BetterUp found a work environment where authenticity was encouraged brought a 140% increase in employee engagement and a 54% decrease in turnover rates. Look for ways to encourage teams to get to know each other. Maybe add some personal elements to the start-of-day toolbox chat, social activities during the week, investing in training sessions that encourage employees to share feedback and learnings, or regular check-ins with line managers that explore workers’ goals and challenges when they’re not on the tools. Leaders should ensure they’re also modelling authentic behaviour and not be afraid to share when things are tough. Embrace manaakitanga. Much research shows that more diverse teams are more productive and attract higher-quality workers. It’s one thing to be represented on a work crew. It’s another to be encouraged to aspire to a leadership role or have your culture fully embraced. Embedding manaakitanga principles emphasises respect and support. It helps everyone reach their full potential and is not just something that benefits Māori. People who feel included and invested are less likely to call in sick work more cohesively as a team, and it also helps create a healthier pipeline of highly skilled workers. Look into cultural training for tools to make the right safe, supportive environment. Introduce behavioural guidelines. The next step to boosting wellbeing and cohesion is helping teams understand acceptable behaviour in your workplace. TradeCareers features Keep It Decent guidelines, providing practical tools and measures for employers, managers, and workers to actively support their co-workers and speak up when things aren’t okay. Connect with the community. When people are struggling, knowing they’re not alone is essential. Let your workers know where to go or who to contact if they need help. MATES in Construction is a fantastic organisation with a lot of tools to support tradies who are struggling. Encourage your people to get involved with networks across the construction sector to maintain morale and connection. This will help prevent issues before they arise, TradeCareers includes links to the National Association of Women in Construction, BCITO Women in Building and New Zealand Builders Facebook groups. Registered Master Builders and Certified Builders are also great resources for networking and advice. For more valuable resources on looking after your team and harnessing diversity and culture to drive productivity, visit www.waihangaararau.nz/thriving-industry and www.TradeCareers.co.nz.