Written by Doug Ramsthel - Partner and Executive Vice President at Burnham Benefits. Republished with persmission from Construction Executive June 10, 2022, a publication of Associated Builders and Contractors. Copyright 2022. All rights reserved.
The challenge of finding employees is real across all aspects of the economy, but is particularly severe for the construction industry, which has seen continued significant growth from low interest rates, stimulus monies, increasing real estate values and pandemic inspired projects. The challenge of finding employees, let alone skilled employees, is likely to continue into the foreseeable future. Construction companies need to adapt to this new normal and offer what employees what they truly want.
As the pandemic continued, employees followed a tremendous burst of economic productivity with feelings of fatigue and burnout. This burn-out became widespread enough to earn the moniker “The Great Resignation.” But perhaps a better title is the “Great Reflection,” as employees do some soul searching, re-examining life priorities and the role of work. This may be one reason why the focus on mental health resources has become a much larger part of employee benefits programs.
Many studies show poor mental health and stress increase health care costs for chronic diseases, like high blood pressure, diabetes, as well as short-term health care needs. It is also clear that stress and mental health challenges affect worker productivity. These connections became clearer during the pandemic, resulting in employee benefits programs responding with several valuable resource including, access to free counseling sessions, virtual counseling services and subscriptions to apps for wellness, stress reduction and improved sleep.
During the last year, a lot of articles have been published about women in the workplace and the challenges faced balancing work and child care needs. Despite the advances of society to provide more equity between men and women, this one area of child care and rearing of newborns still seems to fall more on women than on men. This perspective has begun to shift to seeing a role for men in the child care process, but it has been very slow. Focusing on the health of the family and sources of family stress—namely, child care—could play a major role in reducing worker stress and improving worker productivity.
A very practical way to help families with the caregiving burden and stress is to support and enable the partner to take on more caregiving responsibilities at home. Allowing fathers with newborns to take time off by committing to paternity leave is a very simple way to reduce this burden.
The construction industry is clearly male dominated, and providing paternity leave as an employee benefit could be an innovative way to improve worker productivity, reduce worker stress and ultimately improve the ability to attract and retain skilled workers. It may seem counterintuitive to give workers time off work to take care of a newborn being good for business when every worker and every hour is valuable, but it is an investment that could pay of huge dividends.
In a recent study by McKinsey Global, “A fresh look at paternity leave: Why the benefits extend beyond the personal,” fathers involved in caregiving, and taking time off work to support working moms and partners, can provide significant and widespread advantages to the entire economy. The study concluded that when fathers have time off work to support their partners, overall family stress is reduced and the father (employee) is happier, more productive and has more satisfying and meaningful family relationships. The support for the partner by the father, allows a faster return to work by the partner helping the entire family finances. In this study of fathers who took time off, 79% were glad they took the leave and 71% noticed an improvement in the relationship with their partner.
Offering paternity leave will not immediately have an impact on a worker that is a new father, as company culture must be changed as well. In America, a work-hard culture has made it shameful for workers to take time off for vacation, sick time or really any reason at all. Fostering a culture that supports time off to recharge and focus on family will be a longer-term effort. But this effort should not be intimidating—start now and start small. Give new fathers some time off. It doesn’t need to match what new mothers get off for maternity leave, but a small start can go a long way, even just a week. Begin to create a company culture that encourages time off, assures employees that paternity leave will not have an impact on their career, and supports employee and their families by using more than just paternity leave.