This week on LinkedIn I connected with a supervisor from a previous company and I was prompted to continue this discussion. He hadn’t worked in my team as he was with another division in the company. However, in accepting my invitation he said; “I remember you from the Stadium Project in 2009. I was a trainee Supervisor and you were the first director from the company to welcome me and shake my hand.” I thought; “wow, a simple gesture on my part, yet it made such an impression that it was remembered 6 years later”.
As a divisional manager I made every effort to visit my projects as often as possible. This wasn’t only to see how the projects were progressing, but also to meet our staff. In these visits I asked the Project Manager to walk me around the project. Unfortunately my memory for faces and names is not what it should be, but anyway sometimes we can be so engrossed in a problem or deep in conversation that we inadvertently walk past someone without acknowledging them. So, I instructed the person walking me around to introduce me to our Supervisors, Engineers and other staff, even if I knew them from many years, so that I was sure to acknowledge them. (Apologies to the many that I probably missed or failed to acknowledge – I know I could have done better.)
In meeting a particular supervisor if I was able to add a compliment about their section of work, or remind them of a past successful project, you invariably saw it made their day. Those few words from a senior manager were almost as good as a cash bonus.
When visiting a project where we were working in joint venture with two other contractors, I frequently had comments from their staff that directors from our company greeted our staff, yet, often all they saw of their directors was a face in a window of a vehicle, or a distant view of them.
Some of my Project Managers were very good and knew most of their key employees by name – even on projects with a large workforce. Greeting a person by name can add to their feeling of being valued and recognised. However, I had one senior manager who arrived at the office and would walk past project managers at their desks without greeting them. Needless to say this caused resentment and some left.
I was reminded of another incident where our company was recruiting top university students to take-up university loans (bursaries) from our company. In return they were expected to work for our company once qualified. At that time civil engineering students were in short supply and often the better students went to our competitors. This particular year however every student we offered a loan accepted. When asked why they accepted our loan and not our competitors’ the answer was surprising. Almost all admitted that the biggest factor was that when they visited our office they were offered food and were made to feel welcome. At least they were honest!
It’s often the small things that are important to employees. They may seem trivial to management, or appear to be an irritating unnecessary cost, yet it can add enormous value.
What else can we do?
Here are a few other items that can make a difference in retaining staff:
1. Mobile phone and smart phones. Almost indispensable in construction these days. Some of us may not care what we get as long as it works, but for many younger employees having the latest model is important.
2. Personal computers – again some value the latest or most fashionable model.
3. Flexible work-hours – this is not so easy in construction but sometimes we can be more flexible than we are.
4. Additional annual leave – now this is something that I value.
5. Structuring pay packages to suit people’s needs.
6. Invitations to company functions – this may incorporate tickets to major sporting events. The important thing here is not to put the person under pressure to attend the event or make it appear to be a work event, because some people begrudge having their private time disrupted by the company. When I managed my division I invited senior staff and their wives to at least one event a year. This could have been theatre tickets and a dinner. These events are still talked about many years later. We normally did something that most of them wouldn’t have done themselves so it was a treat.
7. Don’t underestimate how important it is to include partners at these events or to reward the partners. Construction isn’t easy and often requires long hours and travelling away from home. Partners and families are impacted and have to make sacrifices. A happy partner usually means a happy employee.
8. Even items like having a parking space or the location of their office or desk can impact an employee’s happiness and loyalty.
Importantly make sure you are honest with your employees and are consistent in your dealings with them.
For more read part 1 of this article: ‘How do we retain skilled employees in construction?’
It’s often the small gestures that make an impact on our employees. As managers many of these can seem trivial or irritating, yet can make an enormous difference to how employees view the company. I’m sure I could have done more and was guilty of not doing some of the items above. I probably didn’t show the appreciation I should have done and offended some in my team. I probably spoke more harshly than I should have.
Listen to what employees say about you, your company and your competitors. Put yourself in their shoes when you were in their position or at their age. What was important to you then? I remember being deeply offended when our Managing Director visited my project and left preoccupied on his mobile phone, worried about other company business, barely having time to say good-bye and without acknowledging any of our good work.
When people leave the company, ask them why. You could be surprised at some of their answers. You may not be able to stop them leaving but you may be able to take action to prevent others following. But, it’s not just about retaining people, it’s about having motivated and productive employees. Also, don’t underestimate what damage discontented employees can do to the company on social media.
Of course remember though, what’s important for one person may not be so for another.
Thank you for reading this article. If you found it useful please share or like it so others in your network can read it.
Other articles by the author:
Why should we take construction safety seriously?
Construction is a people business employ the right people.
What does it take to manage a construction project?
(Written by Paul Netscher the author of the acclaimed books ‘Successful Construction Project Management: The Practical Guide’ and ‘Building a Successful Construction Company: The Practical Guide’. Both books are available in paperback and e-book from Amazon and other retail outlets.)
© 2015 This article is not to be reproduced for commercial purposes without written permission from the author.