The Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction


Industry Culture and the Ethics of Care

Industry Culture and Ethics of Care (ICEC) covers how firms and projects ‘care’ for their employees and stakeholders and and how a caring organisation enhances value for the firm and society.

Ethics of Care

The Industry Culture and Ethics of Care (ICEC) research theme covers how firms and projects ‘care’ for their employees, workers, clients, suppliers and other stakeholders and how a caring organisation enhances value for the firm, project and society.

The construction industry speaks of ‘caring’ for employees and workers, yet evidence suggests the industry culture remains problematic and thus demands continued attention both in academia and practice.

Relationships and relationship management have been prominent in theories and practices of construction project organising, focusing on, for example, collaborative procurement for design and construction, partnering and strategic alliances and nurturing skills and workforce wellbeing.

These practices point towards an ever-closer alignment with much of the thinking underlying the ethics of care and its attention to relationships and growth-in-connection.

The questions we ask:

Our primary question is: can organisations care, in the sense of going beyond legal obligations? Such a question draws our attention to:

  • Is care capable of offering new possibilities for enhancing both the effectiveness and the moral quality of organisations in the construction industry?
  • How can we translate concepts of care ethics into projects and project businesses to improve practice and outcomes?
  • What are the problematic issues associated with embedding caring as an attitude and process into construction practices and routines?

What our research activity covers:

Our primary aim is to develop organisational capability to align project management and caring practices to enhance performance and transform the industry culture.

Our research activity involves exploring:

  • The development of relationship management as a capability to foster caring and trusting relationships;
  • The formation of relational leadership and competences to carry out caring practices in construction;
  • The improvement of occupational health, safety and wellbeing through a caring approach;
  • The institutional and organisational conditions to enable the development of caring practices in the construction industry.
Our current research projects

Ethics of Care in Project Management: Managing Project Workers’ Wellbeing in the Rise of the Platform Era (2022-2023) Led by Dr Jing Xu (Principal Investigator), Dr Simon Addyman and Dr Qiuchen Lu (Co-Investigator)

Funded by Association for Project Management Research Fund.

The aim of this research is to explore how project-based firms can better ‘care’ for project workers’ wellbeing in transforming to a platform approach. Platform technologies have risen up the organisational agenda in project-based industries such as the construction and technology industries. The technical side of a platform has been widely discussed from scholarly and practitioner standpoints. Yet the organisational and human side of the platforms have not gained much attention.

Digitisation: opportunity or threat for Occupational Health and Safety and Wellbeing in Construction Industry? (2020-2021) Led by Professor Hedley Smyth, Dr Meri Duryan (Principal Investigator), and Dr Jing Xu (Co-Investigator)

Supported by The Transforming Construction Network Plus which is funded by UK Research and Innovation through the Industry Strategy Challenge Fund.

This research aims at examining what the construction industry can learn from other safety-critical industries, particularly from aviation. The UK government, regulatory and advisory institutions encourage a rapid digital transformation of the construction industry through innovative technologies. The adoption of digital technologies offers a great opportunity to improve the levels of productivity and increase efficiency. At the same time, there might be numerous challenges with adoption of new technology across a complex construction supply chain.

Recent Outputs

Xu, J., and Smyth, H. (2022). The ethics of care and wellbeing in project business: from instrumentality to relationality. International Journal of Project Management.

Xu, J., and Wu, Y. (2022). Organising occupational health, safety and wellbeing in construction: Working to rule or working towards wellbeing?, in: Addyman, S., Smyth, H. (Eds.), Construction Project Organising. Wiley-Blackwell. In press.

Duryan, M., Xu, J., and Smyth, H. (2021). Cultivating a ‘just’ culture in construction industry to improve health and safety management systems. Joint CIB W099 & W123 International Conference 2021: Changes and Innovations for Improved Wellbeing in Construction. Glasgow.

Xu, J., Duryan, M., Smyth, H. (2021). Digitalisation for occupational health and safety in construction: A path to high reliability organising?. Joint CIB W099 & W123 International Conference 2021: Changes and Innovations for Improved Wellbeing in Construction. Glasgow.

Smyth, H., Duryan, M., Roberts, A., and Xu, J. (2020). Construction needed intensive care before the coronavirus, Construction Manager Magazine, (April).

Smyth, H. (2008). The credibility gap in stakeholder management: ethics and evidence of relationship management. Construction Management and Economics, 26, 633–643.

How can I get involved?

We welcome a diverse and multi-disciplinary approach to the study of industry culture and ethics of care. We are interested in topics such as relational contracting, relationship management, health, safety and wellbeing, industry and organisational culture.

Whether you are from a project firm looking to enhance capabilities, a research student seeking like-minded peers, or an academic working in the field, please get in touch.