by Jeff Dickey-Chasins
November 2, 2011

There’s good news for employers who find themselves torn between the affordable worker and the practiced employee. As it turns out, many construction-industry job seekers are coming to understand the effects of rising healthcare costs. The result: They are placing more emphasis on qualitative benefits, such as enjoyment of their work, than on the more traditional, financial benefits.

MEPatWORK, the online job website for construction professionals, recently polled its users, asking them to identify the best incentives an employer could offer them. Surprisingly, survey respondents chose “interesting work” as often as “full health benefits.”

Together, the two factors accounted for 41 percent of the votes (20 percent for health benefits, 21 percent for interesting work), surpassing “a fat paycheck” by five percentage points.   Although “a fat paycheck” ranked highest in responses, the survey results clearly indicate that employees are placing more emphasis on enjoyment of their work than in previous years. 

Desperately Seeking Senior Workers 

It’s easy to understand why many construction business owners seek senior-level prospects. Not only does employing a veteran of the industry improve the quality of the company’s craftsmanship and reputation, it requires less investment in training.  

However, senior-level prospects bring a bit of baggage to the interview process, as they are often accustomed to the hefty benefits package of yesterday. And for a lot of employers, offering these packages are no longer a possibility.

While the MEPatWORK survey responders were anonymous, they are most likely senior workers. That’s because most MEPatWORK users are experienced. More than 80 percent have worked in their field for more than ten years; nearly 40 percent have more than fifteen years in the industry.  

Because construction business owners often value experience over all other qualifications on a prospective employee’s resume, it’s good to know this shift in priorities among job seekers extends to the more senior among them.  

Conduct Your Own Employee Survey 

There are several ways construction employers can leverage this shift in priorities among job seekers, especially veteran prospects.  

First, every effort should be made to provide employees with access to stimulating projects. Because each employee may have a different idea of what makes a job exciting, business owners should create a culture that encourages team members to share their ideas.  

Opening up communication lines with employees is key to providing team members with a rewarding career. Employers often guess at what employees are looking for because it's easier than engaging them in a brainstorming process. Not only does surveying employees take more time, it may also, employers fear, reveal more than they want to know.

In addition to asking employees for their ideal project recommendations, employers should get their teams’ opinions on tools and processes. After all, it is often the employees who are most tapped in to the latest materials and gear, methods and practices. Providing them with such contemporary tools of the trade will not only improve the work product but also the employees’ pride in the results of their labor.

Gratitude is Contagious 

Beyond access to modern tools and stimulating projects, business owners should consider the value of communicating client gratitude to the entire team. When a customer is pleased, he typically thanks only the person with whom he’s had contact from the start, and this may not be the employee who completed the physical labor on the job. Sharing the customer’s kind words with the entire crew can go a long way in the fight to keep a senior employee satisfied with his job.  

Happiness on the job often has a lot to do with happiness off the job. We hear a lot about work life balance, and employers need to pay attention to American workers’ call for more flexibility in their schedules. Consider offering flex hours or surprise employees who have worked overtime (even if they are being paid for those extra hours) with an afternoon off.

Striking a Balance 

Ninety percent of employees say achieving work/life balance is a high priority, yet only 15 percent claim to be anywhere close to attaining it, according to research from Opinion Research Corp. and Work+Life Inc. Helping workers achieve this goal alleviates some of the pain felt by shrinking benefits.  

Again, communication is of the utmost importance to making this plan work. Ask your employees what they feel they are missing out on in their personal lives, and see if you can adjust their schedule or duties to accommodate them.  

Is your star performer missing his son’s T-ball game because he needs the time-and-a-half overtime pay? Offer to flex his hours so he can take a few for the game and return to work afterwards or earlier the next morning.  

Does your new employee need somewhere to take his child until he finds suitable day care? Offer to help him in his quest, allow him to bring the child to work for a few days or arrange for care on the company’s dime until he can locate a sitter.

Making sure your employees know it’s Okay to share their off-work tribulations is paramount to creating this work/life balance culture. If they can trust the issue will be kept in confidence and you’ll do everything in your power to help, they will ultimately be a better employee because their minds will be on work, not wandering off, trying to find solutions to their personal problems.  

Getting Creative with Incentives 

Another alternative to a hefty benefits package is employee-recognition incentives. Personalized, non-cash awards, such as gift certificates, trips, golf clubs or home electronics, have a great impact in the mind of an employee.    

Incentive programs can also be designed to achieve greater results for the company as a whole. All employees should have an opportunity to participate, as each person plays an integral role in contributing to the success of a company. 

Loyal employees who are recognized for their contributions feel valued by their employer, which builds a stable foundation for a company’s success. 

Show Me the Money! 

While the MEPatWORK survey indicates an increase in the emphasis employees place on qualitative benefits, workers still need to feel adequately compensated. Although employers may not be able to offer the health benefits they once could, they can compensate in other fiscal areas.  

Take retirement benefits, for example. A vigorous retirement package can be a satisfactory supplement for less-than-stellar health plans and is particularly appealing to the senior-level prospects employers want on their teams.  

According to the Eighth Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey reported on in February, 62 percent of employees surveyed said they would leave their job for a similar position with an employer that offered a retirement plan. 

Flexible spending plans are another option that employers may find more affordable than traditional health plans. Designed to help employees pay for medical and day care expenses tax free, these plans could be a great alternative for organizations in the construction industry. Some plans even encourage workers to submit claims for parking and commuting costs—a great benefit for seasonal construction workers who often travel long distances to work.  

Not all of these solutions will work for every company, and you may have to work out creative benefits on a case-by-case basis. However, it will be worth it in the end.  

Your reputation as a compassionate employer will spread faster than you think, and before you know it, your phone will be ringing off the hook with qualified prospects looking to join your team.   

 

Construction Business Owner, September 2007