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How construction SMEs can tackle issues with staff retention

Redsky Learning managing director Diane Coolican shares her views on how construction businesses can retain staff during challenging economic times.

Running a construction business during a downturn is challenging and it is often the case that employee benefit, welfare and development are placed lower down the priority list, while targets are increased and bigger demands are placed on employees’ time.

This can often lead to an increase in staff turnover, costing UK businesses a reported £42bn per year*.

The construction sector has been hit hard by the downturn and although figures from the Federation of Master Builders State of Trade survey indicate some optimism, the SMEs that have survived have not been left unharmed.

People are the number one asset of any company and, in many cases, could be the key to a business’ survival and future success.

It has never been more important to focus on the development and retention of staff within SMEs to guarantee survival through to the end of this difficult economic climate.

Staff retention during a downturn

During times of financial hardship it is inevitable that the anxieties of business leaders will filter through to all levels, resulting in staff questioning the future of their roles and the organisation.

“People are the number one asset of any company and, in many cases, could be the key to a business’ survival and future success”

Companies will experience low morale and motivation among their teams and, with the increase in responsibilities due to cutbacks without the benefits of pay increases and bonuses, managers will eventually see a decrease in staff loyalty and productivity.

If an employee is dissatisfied in their career, they will look elsewhere and the time and effort spent embedding your company’s values and culture and investing in nurturing that individual’s talents will be wasted.

This can be incredibly damaging to SMEs that cannot afford to lose valued team members.

Investing in employees

SME construction companies recognise the need to invest in new employees, allowing them to see the benefits of working for their business from the outset and encouraging them to thrive within their role.

We are working with several construction companies that recognise the value of maintaining development and training programmes to show their commitment to staff.

“SMEs must also encourage staff to innovative and become more strategically aware, not only helping the business to survive, but ensuring they retain their best people”

The commitment to learning and development programmes, however, has declined over the past few years due to the difficult financial times.

The Gallup report on the State of the Global Workplace 2013 states that the companies that will thrive in the next few decades will be working now to ensure they are in a position to flourish as to economy recovers.

It is important that SMEs don’t only focus purely on the operational delivery aspect; they must also encourage staff to innovative and become more strategically aware, not only helping the business to survive, but also ensuring construction companies retain their best people.

Five simple tips

Though it is inevitable that employees move on, ultimately people are more likely to want to remain in their positions during a recession to guarantee job security as far as possible.

Therefore, SMEs having trouble retaining people can apply some simple tips to maximise their staff retention:

Create a tailor-made development programme for each employee

Focus on leadership first. A focused leadership development programme ensures a level of engagement that will cascade through your organisation. Employee commitment and retention is more likely to be improved if the leaders in your organisation are more involved.

Create open communication between employees and management

It is important to keep an open line of communication between employees and the management level to enable the employee to feel a valued part of the team.

The rumour mill begins when senior team members shut off communication with teams and this can encourage the spread of negative feelings throughout the company.

By giving staff open, honest and regular updates, they will feel informed and more likely to remain loyal to the business. There should also be a forum for feedback to ensure individuals’ views are heard.

Reinforce your company culture and demonstrate empathy with your employees’ individual goals and values

Give people goals and empowerment of the business’ priorities to demonstrate their importance to the company’s success and incentivise positive results.

It is vital that SME’s remember that strategy is top down and implementation is bottom up. Without a clear understanding of what it is the individual needs to aim towards, the company can’t progress.

Make sure employees know what you expect of them

If you have to make redundancies, don’t forget about the people that you retain.

It is important they are informed about the restructure and any changes that affect their positions – they should be clear on what is expected of them and how they are valuable to turning the fate of the company around.

Development is essential when individual job roles have grown or evolved and new roles are required.

You may also be able to offer remaining team members some training in areas where there are resulting gaps that need filling, rather than simply relying on existing colleagues to take on new responsibilities without any prior experience.

Reward successes wherever possible and showcase talent in order to keep your best people

Rewarding people who have taken on extra responsibility, developed opportunities for the company or contributed something positive is essential.

By showing this interest, the employee will feel valued and that the work they do is appreciated.

Finally, it is well documented that people are motivated to succeed when given autonomy, recognition and development, so essentially the best advice for SMEs with retention problems is to address these crucial areas.

Diane Coolican is managing director of Redsky Learning

*PricewaterhouseCooper Survey, 2010. The figure is based on an average salary level of £25,000 per year, plus costs incurred from lost productivity and recruiting and training new staff.

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