Paul Ridilla shows you why employees may leave your company.

As you struggling with our industry's ever-increasing skilled craft shortage, keep in mind that we're in a "seller's" market. As a result, your good employees now possess what other contractors are trying desperately to buy!

But you do have all kinds of feasible options to keep all your current employees on your payroll, as well as attract anyone else who becomes disenchanted enough to go shopping for a new company. You definitely want that mass migration coming to you rather than going away. Over these last few months, I've had the opportunity to talk privately with more than 50 of these "migrators" whom I've know personally. "Why did you leave?" and "What does your new employer do that is so much better?" are my leading Questions. As you might expect, their sincere answers to both questions are quite helpful for my clients and readers in their efforts to prime the pump, as well as not to lose that prime.

Money's Not The Issue

Outside of a few migrators, their primary reason for leaving was not money. Rather, their No. 1 complaint was the way they were treated by jobsite foremen. At the top of this list was having foremen chew them out in front of the other employees. In most cases it was for something that was never even explained to them.

Here are several other charges leveled at foremen:

  • Played favorites with their "drinking buddies". If you weren't included in that clique, you always got the dirt end of the stick, as well as no overtime and the first layoff.

  • Always in a bad mood and bitching about everything including their own bosses and the companies that they were representing.

  • Gave them orders and then wouldn't defend them for doing exactly what they told them when the bosses disagreed and complained.

  • Did not provide the proper tools and still expected a first-class quality job.
In addition, a small number left because their foremen were drinking on the job, using drugs, stealing company tools and materials, starting late and quitting early, etc. The migrators did not want to become rat-finks, squealers or tattle-tales and felt they would be better off in a well-run company.

Good Guys Stick Together

We also have workers who migrated with a good foreman who was disenchanted with the way he was being treated. Is it any surprise that one of these foremen would recruit the best of their crews to help them succeed in their new jobs?

So why did the foremen leave? With the exception of a few who received sizable financial increases of $5 or more an hour, plus truck and travel expenses, all of the remaining disenchanted could have been prevented at little or no cost:

  • No chance to move up in the company without a collage degree. Those stymied foremen were very careful about not moving to another company with the same management philosophy.

  • Being told instead of being asked how to run a job. Far too many jobsite foremen are not included in pre-job kick-off or partnering meetings. All of the scheduling, value engineering, and jobsite strategy is done by estimators and project managers without any input from the jobsite foreman. Some foremen do not even get to see the entire set of plans and specs, let alone their contracts and subcontracts.

  • Measured by cost-coded time reports compared to computerized estimating units. The word estimate means "guess!" When some idiot out of your office goes to a jobsite and tells your foreman that he did not do enough last week according to your computer, you can bet that foreman is shopping for a decent place to work! Some day computerized contractors will learn that cost-coded time reports should be accumulated, studied and used for future bidding. Whatever it cost you to install a mechanical system is the history that should be used for determining whether you are competitive. It is definitely not for measuring foremen!

  • Insufficient manpower and tools, and inadequate materials delivery to meet schedules.

  • A prohibition on "horsetrading" and other means necessary to cooperate with the owner, general contractor, design team and other trades of their jobsite.

  • Memos from the office about poor paperwork, late submittals of timecards or other job-to-office communications, when everything that foreman does is correct and on time. This "mass discipline" has no effect on the real offenders and de-motivates the good guys. You need to discipline any offender privately and document his deeds in his performance file.

  • Excluded from company golf outings, fishing trips and client entertainment at sports events. If jobsite foremen are supposed to be part of the "white collar" management team, why aren't they on the "player's rooster?"
None of these "Why did you leave?" responses were shocking or surprising to me. But they are quite hard for some of my clients to understand. "Why would good foremen change jobs over something so trivial?" is the usual response I hear. I counter with, "Think about it! Can you remember how you felt about those very same items when you were a working jobsite foreman?"

The New Job

Responses to my second question, "What does your new employer do that is so much better?" don't provided as many answers. "The jury is still out," It's still too soon to tell," and "I'm keeping my fingers crossed," were the most common replies. Several were quite disappointed and one foreman said, "I'm sure glad I didn't talk Tony and Mike into coming with me."

But there were also several who were quite ecstatic about finding a first class company that really appreciated their efforts and showed it.

One contractor came to the new foreman's project and missed seeing him. He left an envelope for the foreman with a short, hand written note of a appreciation and a $50 bill to go out to dinner.

One foreman gets one week of fishing and one week of hunting at the company-owned lodge.

Two foremen I talked with can use their company's plane to go home or bring their families to their jobsites.

The majority were well pleased with being involved with estimating, planning and scheduling their own jobs, value engineering and pre-job partnering. They help me run the job my way, seemed to be the prevailing idea.

I hope some of these responses will help you keep all of your good employees, as well as attract all those who become disenchanted working for your competitors. You can easily see that changing jobs is a very traumatic challenge for any employee because of the unknown conditions in that new company. If you consider how little it costs to make your company the best in town all of those migrators will be coming and not going.