The 2021 trend of droves of people quitting their jobs has changed little over the last year during what has been deemed by many as the "great resignation."
In September 2022, just under 4.1 million people in the U.S. quit their jobs and, while quits in construction decreased by 56,000 jobs in September according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor shortage still remains a factor. Additionally, September had a quit rate of 2.0 for the construction industry. This means that of everyone 100 construction workers that were working, two construction workers were quitting.
These sobering statistics mean construction contractors must focus more energy than ever on retaining personnel. Employees are less concerned about quitting and are willing to look elsewhere for gainful employment, and they need to know why they should stay with your company.
1. Address the long-term outlook during the early hiring stages
Being open and honest about what you value the most starts with your ad copy, according to Chris Behan, of Belle Isle LLC and founder of Socius Marketing, and continues into the interview stage. If you want to hire employees that are in it for the long haul, there are a few key questions to pose to interviewees, including:
- What do you value in an organization?
- Why do you want to work with our company specifically?
- What motivates you, and how do you encourage those around you?
- Where do you see yourself in one, three and five years?
"You have to hire culture contributors above all else," Behan said. "You are looking for someone to help further the culture at your organization, and you need to address that from the outset."
Nick Roberts, senior vice president of Homefix Custom Remodeling, echoed Behan's sentiments, adding a few questions for contractors to ask themselves while hiring:
- Are we addressing keeping them as long-term employees in the interview process?
- Are we preparing them while keeping them excited?
- Is the picture we're painting about the role what they will actually experience on their first day?
- Does our training process set employees up to have success quickly?
"There are two things every employee wants to know from the outset," Roberts said. "What are your expectations of me, and later, how am I stacking up against those expectations?"
2. Focus on company culture
"It starts with you," said Behan. "There are as many cultures as there are departments and managers within the company, and your company's culture is the culmination of every decision you have ever made."
Behan also cautioned to be on the lookout for "culture killers"—anything or anyone detracting from the culture you are striving to build—while making a concerted effort to hire people who you believe are better than you and managers that share your vision.
"Employees really pay attention to the decisions you and the managers are making," he said. "Those decisions need to be very employee-centric at this point."
Roberts added that he sees four pillars of happy employment: money, culture, autonomy and advancement. "You need to start," he said, "by ensuring the person you're interviewing or hiring that you're providing the best employment option for them."
3. Give employees clear career paths
Regarding Roberts' pillar of advancement, Behan noted that every company should have a documented career path for every position in the organization, including an outline for management training.
An important, ongoing step in this process is conducting employee surveys. These should address questions such as:
- What is your favorite part of your job? Is there anything about it that you don't like?
- If you could work for a different department, which would it be?
- How do you feel about the company's direction?
- Describe one of your favorite work memories (here or elsewhere).
- How would you describe your job to small children?
- What's the best thing that has happened to you here so far?
"When you ask questions like this, you're learning about the emotions that come from your employees," Behan said. "It will show you what they value and their current outlook on the company."
4. Get creative with benefits
It's time to level up from the 401(k) and health insurance benefits offered by many companies. Behan suggested incentives like half-day Fridays, a stocked break room, flexible work schedules, an emergency relief fund and even pet insurance.
"It's now about going beyond your normal benefits package," he said.
Nelson also mentioned a few other financial ways to retain key employees, including adding a self-directed option to qualified 401(k) plans and making use of the ability to choose who, when and how you want to award bonuses via nonqualified plans.
5. Treat employees as more than a number
Employees deeply value work-life balance, and part of that includes feeling valued for more than what they do for a living. Tim Nelson, co-founder and managing partner of Bull Run Investment Management, said this may require implementing new management styles and looping employees in (when possible) on long-term company planning.
"On average, it costs a company six to nine months of an employee's salary to replace him or her," Nelson said. "That's not a small cost for many small business owners.
The 'why' matters even more to millennials and Gen Z, so their energy needs to be aligned with their purpose for maximum productivity. Remembering that goes a long way in keeping them around."
Loyalty also goes far, added Behan. "Promote from within whenever possible, and rehire former staff when appropriate," he said. "It's also crucial to praise publicly and correct privately, and to show your team that you're willing to go to bat for them when they need it."
Roberts added that it's valuable to focus on the three "Cs" of being a leader: coaching, challenging and confronting. "Being attuned to your people helps everyone feel heard," he said. "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."
6. Measure everything you want to improve—including retention
"Action times effectiveness equals results," Roberts said in closing. To measure your company's results when it comes to hiring and retention, he suggested going back to the simple survey to help gather measurements on data that may affect your hiring plans. "Establish a baseline tenure for each department," Roberts said, "and monitor or check it twice a year to determine what's working well and what may need adjustment."