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Worker resilience

No one is completely sure how many people actually work in the facilities management industry. It’s probably an impossible question to answer, but the official guestimate from most people in the sector tends to be between nine and 11 per cent. Given that there are over 30 million people in work in the UK that is a lot of workers. In this article FMJ asks whether the industry expects too much from them

Whatever the actual number, the overwhelming majority are “boots on the ground” and not management. Everyone in FM knows people with two jobs or long, stressful commutes and they all work in an industry where instant results are demanded. Still millions of workers often go unappreciated and feel undervalued, surviving on the minimum wage and working unsociable hours.

Following the collapse of the Building Futures Group earlier this year there has been a lot of talk about whether FM needs another industry body, but there is little talk about what such a body would do to improve the lot of the FM workforce beneath management level.

Why does their lot need improving? A list of the lowest paying jobs in the UK invariably includes countless jobs from across FM. A 2014 study by to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) included: cleaners, who earn an average of £14,164 per annum, Catering assistants (£13,396) and other service positions (£14,575). Other similar studies include receptionists, security guards, janitorial staff and more in the lists of worst paid roles.

Of the five million people who earn less than the Living Wage over a quarter were cleaners with many of the others also operating in FM (hospitality and retail the only other major players). The Living Wage Foundation stresses that staff turnover is much higher for low paid workers, and they are therefore much less likely to be offered training by their employers, leaving them trapped in their low paying role.

Bearing in mind that this is in the UK, which has a surprisingly poor record when it comes to employee engagement. The Global Perspectives study ranked the UK 18th out of 20 first world nations for staff satisfaction (beating only Japan and South Korea) and in every category measured the country is getting worse, not better.

Only 37 per cent of UK workers felt they were encouraged to be innovative. In the wellbeing index, the UK had a score of 57 per cent. Relationships between staff and managers are generally not seen as positive. A third of employees asked reported they did not have a positive relationship with their managers with less than half (49 per cent) saying they felt valued at work.

Over 1.1 million people in Britain are forced to work two jobs in order to make ends meet. Though precise statistics are hard to come by, many of these surely work in FM. Often they don’t tell their bosses about their other role because they worry about being discriminated against. By law workers must have at least 11 hours’ worth of breaks in a 24 hour period and no less than 24 hours every 17 days (not counting sleep) but in such circumstances this can’t be taken for granted.

So what is it that keeps the guys in the FM trenches going? In an industry where pressure to do more work, better and in less time the Great Recession increased pressure to never before seen levels. Staff were laid off, working hours were increased for many and if you asked for a pay rise you were laughed out of the room.

Recognition of the FM industry as a whole remains minor, hence the constant debates about board representation and C-Suite recognition. Recognition of the least paid and least trained members of the workforce can at times be even worse. Certainly it isn’t just for the money or the glamour.

Perhaps those who say that lack of training, education and qualifications leaves many staff feeling trapped. For many it may just be pride in their work, even if that work isn’t appreciated by everyone.

In off the record conversations FMJ has heard from countless people on FM’s front lines about how they feel undervalued, even mistreatment by… well by pretty much everyone. Service providers, management even the employees on sight who they keep warm, fed and clean.

About Sarah OBeirne


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