BY CHARLIE KIMMEL
Employers worry about losing their best employees to higher bidders, but there are ways to fight back that don’t involve over-paying. You can stay competitive by discovering what your employees really want from their jobs and delivering on the intangibles.
Employee retention continues to be a concern for many industries. Only 29 percent of American employees say they feel valued by their companies, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This dissatisfaction can lead to employee turnover, which costs American businesses $11 billion every year. If you’re seeking high-level talent, turnover can cause delays and create an unstable work environment in addition to costing your business. But by taking positive, thoughtful steps, you can prevent employee turnover.
OFFER MORE THAN JUST A SALARY
When it comes to attracting and retaining executive talent in the construction business, salary and benefits compose only a portion of the total compensation package. Yet 87 percent of most employers, including large contractors, rely primarily on benefits to retain their best and brightest employees.
An often-overlooked piece of the puzzle is job fulfillment: the satisfaction employees receive from the jobs they are responsible for, be it design, on-site supervision, or construction management. The best construction executives want to feel that the work they do makes each job profitable and safe. They want to know they’re gaining valuable skills that will contribute to their career advancement. Additionally, advancement must be transparent in the hierarchy of the construction company. It can come in many forms – from additional responsibilities to employee buy-in programs that tie company ownership to performance bonuses. These attributes translate into job fulfillment.
GROOM EMPLOYEES TO BE THE BEST
“Meaningful work” is what the best employees want on the job. The best workers — even high-level executives — align their career goals with the company’s needs. When doing their job well forwards their careers in construction, they become motivated, dedicated and far less likely to seek employment elsewhere.
A mentor-mentee program can pair, for example, a junior engineer with a project engineer. In a few joint quarterly meetings and on-site visits to construction projects, an employee with less experience can quickly pick up valuable tools from a senior staff member.
To groom the best employees, start with the top candidates. Find those individuals who fit the construction company’s culture. For instance, if the company prizes innovation and needs problem solvers to complete a building more efficiently or wants to save costs by strengthening subcontractor relations, then select talent with a track record of those attributes. If the company values hiring a diverse employee base, then work with construction organizations or construction science programs that also promote the same.
Every company wants employees who are driven to succeed, so look for success across the board. A project manager who consistently meets or exceeds construction schedules or who maintains an injury-free jobsite is a valuable asset. Keep them engaged and challenged every day. Remember, talented employees bring with them high levels of education and experience and want to be useful. Construction is not a sideline occupation; workers need to feel their know-how adds to the completion of the best possible built environment.
RETAIN YOUR BEST EMPLOYEES
To find the best candidates, you need to offer something other than the most money or the best benefits. Compensation is still one of the most heavily weighed factors for accepting a job, but ironically, it’s not as important in employee retention.
The best-quality candidates look for intangibles such as a positive work environment and the ability to contribute actively. Construction is often a leadership-driven occupation, but team building is a must. Executives, engineers, designers, and project supervisors benefit from an inclusive environment. They must have ample opportunities to share insights and knowledge while also clearly understanding the scope of their responsibilities on each project.
Job fulfillment goes beyond feeling appreciated. Employees still value accolades for their performance. A simple “hardhats off” break can do wonders. If an employee demonstrates a positive action, such as calling out a safer way to work, then pointing that out among peers is better than a simple “thank you.”
But encouraging words or congratulatory plaques only go so far. In fact, 60 percent of young executives describe “a sense of purpose” as a prime reason for wanting to work for a particular company. This is developed through a sense of ownership, which can begin before the next job is won. Seeking input from an executive before a new contract is signed sends a message that the company seeks leadership and guidance before a construction schedule is even drafted.
PROVIDE POSITIVE SUPPORT FOR JOB FULFILLMENT
There’s a saying in the recruitment industry: “Employees don’t quit their jobs; they quit their bosses.” Don’t let good employees leave because they’re unhappy with their supervisors.
You can’t resolve a personnel problem if you don’t know about it, so listen to particulars on an ongoing basis. Construction begins before ground is broken, and keeping an ear open early about personnel dynamics can catch problems before they become embedded. Keep your door open, make yourself available and ask questions at each phase of the job, especially as on-site roles are defined and subcontractors come onboard. Look for signs of trouble. Too often, employees doubt that companies have their best interests at heart. On the other hand, employees who believe their managers support them are much more likely to see a project to occupancy and stay on for the next exciting bid.
ENGAGE YOUR EMPLOYEES
Once you’ve attracted quality candidates, don’t let them languish. Challenge them. Keep them focused. And listen to them. Job fulfillment comes from being heard. It develops from feeling engaged in the company’s mission to build well and build often.
The best employees seek engagement; they want to make a difference. A committed engineer will arrive at work ready to offer software customizations to prevent mistakes in the field. The active project supervisor will arrive 15 minutes before anyone clocks in. The safety manager will take extra steps to share new safety procedures so that workers are taught new protocols more than the obligatory ones. When your employees are fully engaged, two positive outcomes result:
They feel challenged doing the job at hand, learning new skills and working toward a definite goal.
They look forward to coming to work and won’t even think about leaving your company.
Studies have shown that companies engaging their employees are 44 percent more likely to earn above-average profits. In other words, if you invest in your employees, that investment pays dividends, both in productivity and in your bottom line.
OFFER PLENTY OF OPPORTUNITIES
Job fulfillment begins with opportunity. A clear understanding of that opportunity should begin at the hiring phase. Employees should hear about chances to gain traction more than once after they’ve been hired to perform a specific job on a project or within a team. More than 50 percent of Americans said they value career advancement opportunities more than base salary. If your company offers few opportunities to learn and grow in the construction industry and within the company, you give talented employees a reason to consider their options. Even a glass ceiling can become visible to those beneath it.
You want your high-level employees to develop their careers on your team, but they will always be mindful of industry trends. For instance, if new technologies, such as REVIT, are rejected again and again by your company due to expense, this discourages forward-thinking individuals from building their careers at your company. If you don’t provide an avenue for advancement, they’ll look for it elsewhere. Executives change jobs for better opportunities as often as they do for better compensation. Discover what they’re striving for and find the best positions within your company to use their talents and fuel their ambitions.
ENCOURAGE WORKPLACE HARMONY
Creating a common corporate culture and hiring people who fit in that culture are crucial to retention. More than three-quarters of all workers cite their work environment as a factor in deciding to leave a job. Of all the employees who enjoy their jobs, more than half said they like the people they work with. The quality of the people you hire depends upon your culture. In construction, a company must support several divisions of labor, from office support and accounting to project managers in the field. Your overall culture may emphasize specific characteristics — such as excellence in execution — but that may mean different things to different divisions. Division leaders should be versed in the ways and means of expressing the culture in different work areas to cultivate cohesion.
Workplace harmony is something that filters down from the top levels. If your company leaders foster competition above all else, harmony flies out the window. One study found that nearly 70 percent of young executives would sacrifice a work friendship to get a promotion.
Paradoxically, more than half of the same age group says that workplace friends contribute to their overall happiness. Nevertheless, the work environment your company promotes should reflect the company’s values. Assessing your company’s culture and harmony by division may determine whether job fulfillment, hence retention, is a product.
MAKE WORK INTERESTING TO PROMOTE RETENTION
Job fulfillment also comes from challenging, meaningful and interesting work. Your employees want to work on exciting projects. It factors heavily into their overall job satisfaction. When assigning employees to projects, be judicious in the process. A young project supervisor doesn’t want to be stuck on mid-sized jobs if only senior-level executives are assigned multi-million dollar, high-profile construction projects. Incorporating a broad swath of talent is a balancing act but can pay dividends when newer and bigger projects come on board.
More and more, executives want to be involved in projects that align with their values. It starts at the top levels, as almost 40 percent of executives cite the company’s mission as a source of pride, which leads to greater job satisfaction, engagement and retention.
In the end, engagement, learning opportunities, career advancement, challenging work and a positive, harmonious environment all contribute to keeping your employees productive, happy, and much less willing to leave their jobs. Job fulfillment is your construction company’s top objective when it comes to retaining your best employees.
Kimmel & Associates is an executive search firm and has been working within the construction industry for more than 30 years. It serves hundreds of client companies and has successfully completed more than 10,000 placements during the past 15 years alone.