How to Retain Construction Employees Using Engagement and Participation

The earlier and more consistent a contractor is in getting a new worker engaged and participating in the company, the more productive and motivated that worker will be

Engagement and participation is not hiring a new worker and then putting him immediately into the work process and expecting unbelievable results right away.
Engagement and participation is not hiring a new worker and then putting him immediately into the work process and expecting unbelievable results right away.

Engagement and participation is not hiring a new worker and then putting him immediately into the work process and expecting unbelievable results right away. While many contractors might deny taking this approach to new employee integration, this remains one of the most consistent failed steps used.

If, when we bring new employees on board with our company, we simply just have them join their new department, project or crew without any real orientation and some limited amount of skill training, we are sending them to a higher level of negative first impressions. And such impressions are very difficult for most workers to forgive or to forget.

Now, how long should a contractor wait before engaging the new worker in the actual tasks? How long before we encourage and expect participation from a new worker? These are both good questions to ask and they should be addressed.

How long should a contractor wait before engaging the new worker to the actual tasks?

Certainly part of the answer lies in the level of skill a worker brings to the new job. An equipment operator, while knowing the technical skills needed and possessing the required proficiency to operate still should be given some insights — training if needed — on how the new contractor approaches work and key requirements for equipment handling and maintenance. In short, it is making sure that the new operator does things the way in which the new employer wants to see the work completed.

If the contractor in the previous example spends the first few days educating the new operator about the company, the company’s vision, the company’s commitment to customer satisfaction, quality, safety, etc., then the new worker is better prepared to address needs on the job. This preparation for the new worker wins over his attitude, sets the company expectations more clearly in view and makes for a better long-term and loyal employee.

How long before we encourage and expect participation from a new worker?

Again, part of the answer here is dependent on the personality and attitude of the new worker. As any contractor knows, there are some new workers who begin and hit it off early with everyone. Within just a week it seems like the new worker has been part of the “family” for years. Other employees can take longer to integrate into the new company. In fact, for some contractors, even a two-to-three-year employee can still not be participating as the owner would like to see. So, what is the timetable on average?

Part of gaining a worker’s participation depends on the contractor. The contractor must encourage participation and then let it happen. Too many times an employee might make an improvement suggestion only to be shot down by the contractor, the immediate supervisor or even a “know-it-all” coworker. For some workers, this early shoot down is enough to have them shut their mouth and refuse to participate in the future. This is a big reason why employees leave a contractor; they’re searching for that company that will welcome their ideas and efforts.

Ok, let’s now take a look at nurturing employees to engage more in their role. Likewise, let’s also consider how we can gain greater participation from our workers. Remember, the success contractors can achieve on these two efforts can greatly impact the longevity of their employees, further reducing the “flight risk” of workers quitting.

Building engagement & gaining participation

1. Be sure to properly “on-board” new employees.

Review my thoughts on Step #1 and you will refresh your memory to practicing some effective “On-Boarding” techniques. Communicating this effort at the very beginning to the new worker’s relationship with the company represents the culture that the contractor wants to create and maintain. Start this process on the first day if possible but no later than the end of the first week in the tenure of the new employee.

2. Ask questions of new workers early, and listen to their responses.

The communication with the new worker should not be one-way only. Sure there are a lot of things to stress, emphasize and train, but there must be commitment to ask the employee questions. This overemphasizing of asking questions during the first few days and weeks in the life of the new employee strongly demonstrates that his thinking, ideas, concerns, etc., are important to the company and that he has no reason to be shy or timid in regards to sharing what is on his mind.

The key during this entire effort, however, is not only the questions asked but more on the attention to the listening. Asking questions is important, but it is the leader who listens actively that really reinforces the culture that “we care about you.” Such a consistent message, especially early in the relationship, reinforces the commitment the contractor made to the new worker and allows the new worker to confirm his decision to be a part of the new company.

Briefly, consider a few questions that are good to ask during the first few weeks of a new employee’s life with his new contractor:

  • “So, how are you doing with what we’ve shared with you?”
  • “Do you have any questions about what we’ve discussed?”
  • “Please share with me what you think we said?”
  • “How would you explain this job/task to another employee?”
  • “What can we do to help you learn more effectively?”
  • “Ok, I’ve just demonstrated to you how to perform this task; now, you demonstrate for me how to perform the task.”
  • “Can you share with me two or three things that you’ve learned over the past few days?”
  • “I could really use your help; how can we make what we’ve tried to share with you better and clearer for the next new employee?”

Any modification of the questions above will work. The point here is that posing questions, regularly, to new workers begins to create a level of expectation for the new employee that he is in fact expected to engage, to ask questions and to think!

3. Involve new employees in discussions and decision-making.

Too often a contractor, or one of the managers or field leaders, will avoid involving new workers in construction discussions or contributing to making a final decision. This is a real turn-off to your better-attitude and better-skilled new workers. If a contractor thought enough of the new worker at the interview session, why wouldn’t the contractor want to involve the worker as soon as possible? A failure to do this creates confusion for the new worker.

While not all new workers have all the answers, more employees want to be involved with impacting successful work. To not involve new employees (or even seasoned workers) in discussions and decision-making opportunities creating a culture with which real winners do not want to associate. Want to keep your workers longer? Start including them in discussions on scheduling, how to approach forming that odd-angled wall or foundation, or how to rewire the house that experienced a flood. Such inclusion will build more interested and motivated workers, and that always turns into longer-employed workers!

4. Create some “mini-teams” of workers to attack challenges.

Some workers can participate and engage without much invitation. However, some employees “blossom” when they are part of a team-oriented approach to resolving a challenge. This type of worker might prefer the team approach as he doesn’t want to feel like he is individually carrying the burdens of the job or task. 

You can create mini-teams for a host of different purposes. Consider a few that I’ve either helped to form or have observed other contractors utilize:

  • Team to create and maintain a clean, clear and safe yard for trucks, trailers and equipment
  • Team to determine best work processes to follow when loading and unloading trucks and trailers
  • Team to lay out a safety plan for a jobsite
  • Team to discuss and decide the best way to cover absentee workers, vacations, etc.

The actual team engaged might not be as important as just providing the opportunity for the new employee to be a part of something for the company that has value.

5. Recruit the new worker to join a company sponsored community event.

More and more contractors are involved with community events. From sponsoring a local marathon to assisting on a home “make-over” for a family in need, such opportunities can allow a new worker to volunteer for an event that is a “feel good” experience while also getting to know other company employees.

Not to provide an exclusive list, but just think about a few of the community events or needs that contractors have participated in the past — and get your new employees involved.

  • Home “make over” for elderly or family with great needs and no money
  • Working with high school students on business or construction-related projects
  • Pass out food at local soup kitchen
  • Join a group of coworkers on working with physically challenged children

You get the idea I’m sure. This technique, used early in the new worker’s career with your company can go a long way to building greater first impressions that can last a long time.

6. Engage the new worker to train another new worker.

A proven technique I’ve used and observed for years in gaining greater engagement and participation is to assign a new worker to train another even “newer” worker. Even if the “newer” worker is only a few weeks behind in his start, the new worker can immediately feel useful and make an actual contribution to another newer worker early in his tenure. The action can also drive what he has learned even deeper into his mind.

There is every bit of evidence that supports the fact that the earlier and more consistent a contractor is in getting a new worker engaged and participating in the company, the more productive and motivated the new worker will be. Performance and profitability are enhanced when we engage workers — at all levels of their tenure with your company — to be more involved with work efforts.

Start today to engage new workers and to gain their participation!

Read all of Brad's articles on the seven steps to worker retention:

Step #1: On-boarding

Step #2: The 90-day Plan

Step #3: Skill Training

Step #4: Coaching and Mentoring

Step #6: Responsibility Enhancement

Step #7: Performance Review