Five Tips to Get Your Construction Employees to Care

The attitude and demeanor of construction workers reflects the attitude and demeanor of the owner and leaders.

Often the attitude and demeanor of construction workers reflects the attitude and demeanor of the owner and leaders.
Often the attitude and demeanor of construction workers reflects the attitude and demeanor of the owner and leaders.

Visiting a client recently I was asked by a project leader, “Ok, do you get employees to care about their work, about doing a good job and keeping you updated whenever they face a problem?” 

Yikes! I knew in an instant that this question wouldn’t be easy to answer.

Like most contractors, I, too, have faced this same question about my workers. 

  • How DO owners and leaders get their workers to care?
  • How CAN owners and leaders inspire workers to take greater ownership for their efforts? 
  • How DO owners and leaders move people to demonstrate their pride in their company, to comply with company policies and to respect other workers?

I can’t think of any topic more in need of some practical and proven solutions than how to move employees to care more about their work and the company they work for, so here goes with five insights to get you on track.

1. It does begin with the owner

Ok, let me get the “800-pound gorilla” out of the way.  For the contractors whom I’ve observed having a good representation of “caring employees,” I must admit that the owner and leaders do demonstrate care and respect. 

This doesn’t suggest that there is a “love fest” every day, but there are visible signs of the senior people showing respect among their peers and genuinely respecting those at the different levels.

Certainly if the contractor and his or her senior team does not care about their own efforts, acting in ways that disrespect the company, customers or employees that contractor will tend to lose tremendously motivated people and attract great schools of “carp.”

2. Communication Is clear, consistent & pervasive

Contractors who communicate information in ways that are clear to those listening improve caring. When workers leave a personal meeting or a group meeting and are fuzzy about what was said, doubt begins to set in. Clarity about the intended message is central to leaders demonstrating their level of care. 

Consistency is just as important as clarity to most employees. Consistency suggests that messages are transparent; that the contractor isn’t hiding anything because he provides regular updates on how the company is performing or what new projects will need or how a crew is going to approach an upcoming project.

If you try to conduct regularly scheduled meetings (weekly, bi-weekly, quarterly, etc.) then conduct the meetings. Once the consistency is disrupted employees begin to question the caring the leaders have to keep them updated or informed.

Finally, communication that is pervasive reaches throughout the organization. While some company information might be confidential for a period of time, most work-related communication could be educational and instructive to all parts of your company. 

For the smaller contractor with fewer than 20 to 30 employees this might not be that large of a problem. However, as growing contractors know, as the number of “mouths to feed” continues to grow, it’s even more critical that company news, updates, plans, changes, etc., is communicated to and through every department of the company. 

3. Leaders must commit some “random acts of kindness”

This is not so hard, or corny, as it might sound. Such “random acts” might involve action as innocent as the contractor or a supervisor spending a few extra minutes throughout the day making small talk with employees. 

Asking an employee how she is doing or asking her about how her growing family is doing can create incredible loyalty, a friendlier work atmosphere and a more motivated work force. There is still something very special for most employees when their leaders stop by and just visit on a personal level. 

Again, for the growing contractor this can be a daunting effort to maintain, as any contractor who has doubled in size over a short amount of time can attest.

Other random acts of kindness can certainly be larger in scale and cost. One company I know personally has an owner who refused to lay off his workers when the economy went south. He and his entire team of owners and senior leaders took a significant reduction in their own salaries to keep from laying off workers. 

They held to this commitment for more than 18 months. While eventually they did have to let go of a few workers, the workers were incredibly touched by the sacrifice of the owner and leaders, leading to an almost perfect retention of workers by this company. The message was clear to the workers…the owner and leaders cared greatly for their welfare.

4. Project leaders must discuss & plan jobs…with the employees

To state that every construction project should have a thorough planning effort is an understatement. However, as those plans move closer to the actual employees who will be executing them, it is an incredibly smart thing for a leader to bring the employees in on the planning process. Providing such an opportunity for employees certainly sends the message that “we need your brain” rather than simply passing out job orders. 

Look, not every employee will be effective at the planning process, but the fact that the contractor or a crew foreman is bringing the planning process to the workers reinforces the mindset that everyone is in this thing together. 

Do not let a less-than-enthusiastic response from employees keep you from repeating the effort on all projects, no matter their size. Stay with it and you will soon begin to see the workers gravitating to being more engaged, expressing more ideas and looking for more ways to prevent poor quality, improve safety and upgrade performance. This effort alone can greatly impact the attitudes of your employees.

5. Leaders must go “one-on-one” with employees

If you really want to see some greater caring effort by your employees then reach out to them…one at a time. This must begin with the contractor first. If you are the owner, you must begin (or continue) to stop by each and every employee to visit with them.  Talk business, talk family, talk, sports, etc., but huddle up with every worker.

Again, for the smaller contractor this is easier to accomplish. For the larger contractor the task is tough but no less important. Senior leaders need to complete this effort as well, joining in on spending more time with each worker.

In the end, getting your employees to care might have more to do with what you care about and what you do than it does about their caring effort. You might have heard it said that “a team reflects the personality of its coach.” This could easily represent most of the contractors in our industry. Often the attitude and demeanor of construction workers reflects the attitude and demeanor of the owner and leaders.

Start today at reviewing how much you really care and what you are doing about it personally. If you and your leadership team have slacked a bit on demonstrating what you care about then perhaps you can renew your team’s efforts during this year. It’s never too late to get started again but be sure to be consistent in your efforts.