Retention – supporting staff to stay with your business

By Alan Pollard, CCNZ CEO, and Ralph Suckling, RobLawMax.
We hear frequent stories of staff poaching, sometimes by non-members, and this is despite the member obligations in the CCNZ Code of Ethics. 

While this is disappointing, it’s true that attracting people to the industry and retaining them within individual businesses remains a real challenge in a competitive employment market, where there is only 3.3 percent unemployment. 

In the 2022 CCNZ Teletrac Navman Construction Industry Survey, 84 percent of respondents identified skill shortages as one of the main challenges to industry growth (and 54 percent said it was the biggest challenge they faced), while 87 percent said they would hire today if the right skills were available.

This means employers need to focus on what they can do to retain the staff they have. In this way they can support staff to resist the temptation to move, regardless of how an opportunity has arisen, and whether the move is to another employer, another industry, or another country. 

Staff who feel valued, fairly rewarded, and engaged are more likely to stay with an employer. So, what strategies can employers adopt to encourage commitment, loyalty, and longevity from staff? 

To help identify these strategies, I enlisted the help of Ralph Suckling, a senior secruitment consultant with RobLawMax (a CCNZ associate member) who has 14 years’ experience in recruiting. Here is what we have come up with.

Create a positive workplace culture

“Culture” must be one of the most misused terms in business. Organisation culture is the collection of values, expectations, and practices that guide and inform the actions of all team members. Some of the factors to create a positive culture include the following.

Clearly articulating what the business is about and what constitutes success; and encouraging open and transparent communication. 

This should go and work both ways – from the company about its policies, decision making, expectations and outlook; and from the employees to encourage engagement on what is important to them.

Celebrating success: Whether at a company level (a new contract, a new hire, etc) or an employee level (a qualification or certification, a major contract milestone, a personal triumph).

Prioritising policies that support a heathy work-life balance. This could mean offering flexible work programmes, regularly checking in on workloads, and checking in with staff to see how they feel about their work arrangements.

It is important to regularly check how people are finding the culture from their position in the business. We often hear of someone in the hierarchy treating staff poorly, projecting negative attitudes, or subjecting their team members to an uncomfortable work-life situation.

Often this is invisible to more senior managers. It is important that those managers actually understand what the culture is like for staff on ‘the front line’.

Having a great culture should inspire employees to have confidence in themselves, in the people they work with, and in the company they work for. Having a culture that encourages diversity enhances a company’s reputation and performance. 

Get your process for ’onboarding’ right

No one likes surprises, so how we onboard or orient new staff is very important. Research shows turnover is the highest among new staff. 

It is important new staff clearly understand their roles, what is expected of them, what they can expect as a member of staff, and what success will look like. And it is critical they are given all the tools and resources they will need to succeed in the role from their first day of work. 

Focus on staff wellness

We all know of the significant mental health challenges that the industry faces, exacerbated by the pandemic and by the consequences of the Covid response – critical labour shortages, rampant cost escalation, supply chain disruption, and pipeline uncertainty.

A supportive work environment has processes to check in with staff and recognise the signs things may not be quite right.

Use programmes such as MATES in Construction to both train supervisors and managers on how to recognise and address signs of stress, fatigue, and depression; and give staff tools to use if they are feeling vulnerable to any of these signs.   

Be kind as a supervisor or manager. Staff find it much harder to say good-bye to a manager they really like, than they do to a manager they don’t like, or they think doesn’t care. 

Offer a continuous learning environment

Businesses should proactively think about each staff member and ask them where they want their job to go, and whether they think it’s currently going there.

Training, education, and development opportunities should focus on improving existing skills or developing new skills to set a pathway for career and remuneration advancement. This increases staff loyalty and improves staff productivity.

Part of a continuous learning environment is regular and constructive feedback. Feedback on on-the-job performance should never be a surprise for the staff member. More frequent and informal performance “check ins” help identify where training is best directed and help identify performance or competency risks before they become an issue.   

It is far more cost effective and has far more impact on staff morale and retention, to be able to promote from within a business. When staff see that career advancement within a business is possible, they are motivated to learn, contribute, and engage in a business. 

Keep staff continually challenged. Boredom in a role causes staff to look elsewhere for that challenge and motivation. Providing the opportunity to “stretch” themselves beyond their comfort levels, in an environment where experimentation is encouraged and the idea of ‘failure’ is replaced with the notions of ‘learning and developing’, can lead to improved performance and greater loyalty. 

Keep remuneration competitive

In a highly constrained labour market, the imbalance between the supply of and demand for skilled labour necessarily impacts salaries and wages.

Businesses should ensure compensation remains competitive. Compensation doesn’t just mean salaries, but includes other benefits such as a motor vehicle, health insurance, or performance bonuses.

For many, the attraction of a role is not necessarily just the package on offer. Yes, staff want to be fairly rewarded for their skills, effort, and contribution. But other benefits are often just as valued – company culture, a safe and supportive work environment, and continuous learning and resultant recognition, all contribute to a staff member’s commitment to a company and their desire to stay and support the company. 

The defence against staff poaching

The first and best defence against the risk of losing staff is to offer a safe, supportive, appreciative, rewarding, and challenging workplace. This is more likely to result in staff staying longer and contributing more positively to the success of the company.     

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