The construction industry isn’t just facing supply chain problems and a raw materials shortage, it is suffering from a labor deficit as well.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has found that 70% of contractors are currently struggling to fully staff their sites, particularly with skilled workers.
However, it can be easier to keep a fully staffed team when the employees are engaged with their work and feel that they are valued.
Employee engagement takes many forms, and it can include a great deal beyond the usual advice of paying high wages.
It’s also possible to use positive reinforcement or to organize team-building exercises.
Positive reinforcement is an option as well. Engagement can also follow from improving workplace safety and maintaining open communication with your crew.
Read on for more information about implementing these ideas.
In this article...
Pay Competitive Wages
Paying competitive wages seems obvious, and yet some construction companies still offer wages at pre-COVID rates.
The combination of inflation and a lack of laborers means that project managers and decision makers must pay top dollar in order to retain employees.
It’s almost impossible to meet construction project deadlines with low staff numbers, or to schedule work with any consistency.
Struggling through the day with whatever workers happen to show up and battling to have a full staff on a constant basis is inefficient and, in the end, usually more costly than simply paying your crews the going rate.
Paying a competitive rate will not only keep your best workers on the job, but also increase efficiency, help to build a dependable company culture, and save administrative costs on constantly onboarding and training new employees.
Doing what you can to limit turnover makes for a more settled workforce and better productivity.
In addition, employees learn how to work with the same team, which leads to less time wasted in figuring out equipment processes, shift change procedures and the like.
Of course, not all construction jobs pay the same. Sometimes unions set pay expectations, but others vary by market or type of work.
See the chart below for a glimpse at how much various construction roles were paying per hour as of the end of 2020:
To know what to offer employees to keep them on the job, first research what your competition is offering.
It’s probably difficult to find any takers when you’re offering $20.00 an hour and the company down the street is paying $27.00.
By calculating median salaries, including benefits, and allowing for applicant experience, you should arrive at a reasonably competitive number.
Keep in mind, however, that money isn’t the only factor keeping workers loyal to the same company.
Most people are willing to accept a few dollars less an hour in exchange for a workplace that is welcoming, safe, and offers opportunity for advancement.
Especially during a deepening labor shortage, employees will not stay with a business that does not meet their needs.
Employee retention does not happen by accident, and is well worth the invested resources.
Use Positive Reinforcement
No matter the role an employee plays in a company, everyone needs positive reinforcement every now and then.
Dedicating a bit of time and resources to encouraging your employees can pay off much more than the original investment.
You will save money on employee churn and onboarding costs, while ensuring greater worksite efficiency.
This chart offers a few guidelines to follow when choosing which form of positive reinforcement to use:
Positive reinforcement, then, is only effective if it’s immediate, personal, frequent, and earned.
Paying your workers compliments on social media is a good idea as well, as long as they are comfortable with it.
Using positive reinforcement to reward contributive behavior makes for a much more positive and happy worksite than one constantly awash in lectures, anger, and threats.
Many forms of positive reinforcement cost little to implement.
For example, showing up unannounced with the supplies for a coffee break will help you make your employees feel as if their needs are taken into consideration.
Some incentives don’t cost any money at all, but can be even more effective– asking employees for advice, for example, or taking some aside to request their honest opinion on how the site is run.
Including all employees in decision-making implies trust in their skills and concern for their thoughts.
This type of positive reinforcement carries the added benefit of finding fresh ideas for how to get the job done.
Set a Good Example
Even if it is a rule at the site to wear a hard hat at all times, workers will feel less compelled to do so if they see a foreman or project manager walking around without one.
Wearing the required PPE (personal protection equipment) is a silent signal that safety is valued in your company and that certain rules are laid down for good reason.
Another way to set a good example is to take responsibility for your work.
By showing that you are not afraid to admit your mistakes, workers will be encouraged to do the same, leading to better cooperation in the workplace.
The ability to lead by example is considered a soft skill in the workplace. Good leaders will exhibit the following characteristics while interacting with workers:
When you demonstrate these on a consistent basis to your team, they will take note, either consciously or unconsciously, and understand that this is the kind of behavior you expect from them.
For instance, if you show the ability to stay calm under pressure and pivot quickly to new circumstances, your employees are more likely to do the same.
Simply showing up at the site is a good way to announce that you are interested in the project and want to see for yourself how the workers are faring.
Especially under adverse conditions such as extreme heat or cold, taking this step shows that you are willing to leave a comfortable office and experience what your crew is.
Even though remote monitoring is inexpensive and efficient, appearing on the site to look over the conditions and talk to employees is a dramatic sign that you are involved with their welfare.
Organize Team-Building Exercises
Most associate team-building exercises with non-construction work, but these techniques are useful for any industry or position.
One way to encourage teamwork is to sponsor employee activity outside of the workplace.
This can take the form of athletic activities, escape rooms, group classes, retreats, trips to sporting events, visits to amusement parks, and more.
As this visual aid shows, uniting team members, even those who might not know one another in person or who have never met, can make for a more cohesive and satisfied workforce.
The outcome of good team-building is better worker chemistry and increased problem-solving skills.
It allows workers on opposite shifts to meet one another, builds camaraderie, and encourages communication.
Improve Workplace Safety
Many project managers and contractors are eager to improve workplace safety to avoid possible fines, lawsuits, or loss of license.
However, demonstrating that your company concentrates on safety also shows that you care for the safety of employees.
Disregarding their well-being to meet a deadline or catch up to an established schedule is a good way to lose employees quickly– and they will likely spread the word to other prospective candidates.
To improve workplace safety in addition to the measures your company is already taking, consider posting safety reminders and frequently switching them out so that they don’t become part of the background and therefore ignored.
New colors or graphics tend to catch the attention of employees and help reinforce important messages.
One technique is to use easy-to-remember acronyms:
Since construction is inherently risky, it’s important to review safety rules on a regular basis, especially when a rule change goes into effect. Instituting team check-ups can help to inspire trust and better teamwork.
While some tools and equipment in the construction industry offer automatic safety features, these alone do not guarantee a safe workplace.
Making safety a priority is common sense beyond an attempt to engage employees. Absenteeism due to injury is expensive in a number of ways outside of civil suits and fines.
It can cost a great deal to onboard new employees, conduct training, hire temporary workers, and pay overtime to ensure that your company meets its milestones.
Maintain Open Communication
Open communication is important in a number of ways.
When most people think of communication on a construction site, they conjure images of radios that must be kept in good working condition or emphasis on issuing clear instructions.
However, a company that fosters strong communication skills goes beyond these essentials.
Good communication is consistent and constant. Especially on a construction site, ensuring the clarity of safety, training, and weather information is a must.
It is also best to practice transparency and to discuss difficult situations with workers openly.
Some employees might provide more precise feedback in ways other than conversation. Consider these other forms of opening communication:
Regularly scheduled meetings each week, month, or quarter might help in airing out various issues and in issuing reminders.
Gathering employees before each shift is a good idea as well. Employees should also have easy access to whistleblower hotlines, health necessities, and mental health information.
Ensuring that your team knows how to access these resources is an important part of worksite communication.
Employee engagement requires several techniques to work properly. The first step is to pay your team competitive wages and ensure that their basic needs are met.
In addition, using various forms of positive reinforcement and setting a good example can help employees feel valued and challenged.
Organizing team-building exercises and improving workplace safety offers many benefits.
Finally, a dedication to transparency and open communication contributes to a positive workplace, which aids greatly with employee retention.