Being aware of the top causes for losing employees can help you keep yours.

Good help” is hard to find. It always was and always will be. As you may have already discovered, good help is also hard to keep. Losing a good employee is extremely traumatic for any contractor and very costly. As today’s skilled craft crises increases, those costs increase exponentially with the agony.

Fortunately good employees who left your company found out the grass was not really any greener on the other side of that fence and now would be glad to return. Some of you may need to make some minor changes or adjustments with your operation and employee relations, but these changes will make you money rather than costing critical company dollars.

We have a wide assortment of circumstances that cause turnover that naturally require different resolutions to prevent any future losses, as well as attracting any of your strays to return. As you examine each of these situations, consider how little it would cost to change compared to how much you will benefit.

Head Honchos: At the top of our list, and by far the biggest cause of turnover, is breaking the chain of command.

Some companies do not even have one on paper. There is no such thing as an “understood chain of command.” Defining exactly who works for whom clearly establishes responsibility and blame. There is no limit to the number of people who can work under you. The limit and major reason for writing a chain of command is the number who can work OVER you. That limit is one, and only one!

The chain of command deals with two critical words in human relations: “ask” and “tell.” When you have the authority to tell an employee what to do, you must accept the blame for whatever the employee may do wrong. When you must ask employees to do something, they must make the decision and become responsible for their actions.

Let’s take a look at some of the damage caused by having two or more bosses, so you can easily understand why any good employee might quit.

  • The owner of the company will visit a jobsite being supervised by a project manager or general superintendent and give orders to or reprimand the jobsite foreman. In many instances, that owner will criticize or discipline an hourly employee who answers directly to that jobsite foreman.

    We even have companies with more than one owner along with those older companies with more than one generation of owners. You also can see why a jobsite employee would leave if he received orders from one boss and then criticism for carrying out the orders from another boss.

  • Many project managers and traveling superintendents will break the chain by going directly to a jobsite employee rather than through their foreman, who is responsible for their behavior. This is especially volatile when there are employees with more seniority than their foreman has.
  • Breaking the chain also works in reverse when field employees go straight to the owner of the company for a raise or personal favors. We even have employees who were justifiably fired by jobsite foremen and then replaced on other company projects by pleading with the owners. All of this is so brutally damaging to any proud employee and so easy and inexpensive to resolve. Take the time to write an organizational chart, defining who works for whom, and post it on the company bulletin board or issue a copy to each employee. If and when you accidentally break the chain (and you will) always go to the injured parties and apologize. They need that respect, and so do you.

Also very high on the list of causes for turnover is public criticism. You should always say anything good about an employee to as many people as possible, but say anything negative to him only in private. This is called respect, and anyone who is proud has it. How proud could you be if your peers did not respect you? Naturally, the owner and your management team must maintain this respectful discipline in private. You can understand why a proud employee would quit if any of your company supervisors chastised him in front of his peers.

Show Me The Money: Our next biggest cause of costly turnover is disputes regarding wages, salaries, bonuses, fringes and benefits. Many good employees have left good companies simply because they believed they were not paid properly for what they were doing. What is really sad is that neither the employee nor the company had ever established what a fair wage should be. You must consider one very important factor: Anyone good wants to be measured, and they want that measure to be reflected on their paychecks. They also want to be measured fairly.

A fair wage policy does not cost money — contrary to what most contractors believe. You simply need to explain to your jobsite employees that their “8 for 8” measurement and score card are established daily by their foreman. When their paycheck reflects this score, you can be assured that they now realize that they personally control their own wages.

Your entire management team — from working foreman to the top — must have written “scope of work” contracts or job descriptions, which they negotiate with you and are then used for measuring their performance. You can maintain a fair and reliable score card by simply documenting any above or below expected performance that was discussed when it occurred. This eliminates any doubt about a fair wage for good performance. Greener Pastures: We also lose good employees who believe they should begin their own businesses. Some of these employees are successful — just as you are. But the majority of them don’t make it. Many are surviving but actually making less profit than what they were making in wages working for you. You should make an attempt to meet with former employees and ask them to consider coming back. Even if they decline, they would certainly appreciate your offer.

When you have all of this in place, you can “round up” those good strays who have left you in the past. If you are using an “exit interview,” you easily can identify the cause of each individual’s leaving. If not, some of your long-time employees can relate their problem or reason for leaving. I recommend using one of your employees to recruit that former employee. They simply need to tell that employee you have changed and really would like him or her to come back to give you another chance. If your employee hesitates or refuses to confront that former employee, there may be a possibility that you have not changed. You need to discuss any hesitation to be sure you are providing the “best job in town” as well as assuring that you won’t suffer any future turnover.

To entice a good employee back, you should consider restoring any previous year’s seniority. You can explain your reasoning to those loyal employees who have stayed with you over the years. They are well aware of our severe skilled craft shortage and will agree that it is a very small price to pay to get someone back who you already know is good.

Next month, we will look at recruiting some of those good employees who were fired or laid off under negative circumstances. Human beings make mistakes, and most will do much better when given a second chance. Naturally, there are exceptions, but we will also explore those possibilities.