From file "053R1_RCs" entitled "Employee Feature" page 01
From file "053R1_RCs" entitled "Employee Feature" page 01

This year, for the first time, Archadeck of Charlotte in North Carolina mailed questionnaires to every person on the company payroll. Barry Klemons, president of the deck-building franchise, says he sent the questionnaires to get suggestions from employees and subcontractors for making departments and jobsites run better. Those who responded by a set date received something else in the mail: a check for $100.

Including employees in job-related decisions is one of the surest ways contractors have found to keep valued associates from straying to competitors, to other industries, or even to early retirement. “People leave due to not feeling important or involved,” observes Charles Gindele, whose company, Dial One Replacement Window in Santa Ana, Calif., has two locations and 70 employees.

There are, of course, plenty of theories about how employers can keep their best people (see “The Boss' Perspective,” on page 58). “If you provide lucrative compensation and a great work environment, people won't be looking for greener pastures,” says Vaughn McCourt, director of operations for Statewide Inc., a window replacement company headquartered in Mukilteo, Wash., with 550 employees at four locations.

Other contractors make it a point to celebrate wins by rewarding employees for jobs well-done. Archadeck of Charlotte has had success keeping key people. The company's office manager has worked there 13 years, the sales manager 12 years, his scheduler 10 years, and the showroom manager nine years. Klemons says he believes retention is achieved by respecting all employees, regardless of their position, and giving each some sense that he or she is more than a mere cog in the machine.

Hey, Stick Around Employees stay for reasons that are sometimes obvious, sometimes subtle to the point of invisibility. Linda Schwartz, president of Employee Retention Strategies in Phoenix, has researched the subject and says they stick around for one of four reasons:

  • They feel they're doing meaningful work.
  • They're receiving the tools and training to do their job.
  • The company provides career and workplace options.
  • They see opportunities for advancement.

Other reasons key employees stay or leave, company owners say, revolve around job security and benefits, career opportunities elsewhere, lifestyle changes, and — probably most importantly — their relationship with the boss ... or lack of one. Simply keeping an open flow of communication between yourself and your employees goes a long way toward minimizing turnover.
And keeping workers starts when you're hiring. Seasoned contractors and consultants conclude that the interview process should include questions that weed out “job jumpers” and identify potential leaders.

Some contractors admit that giving short shrift to the personal evaluation process leaves them in the dark when good employees leave. It's often in performance reviews that employees feel comfortable airing gripes and aspirations. And even home improvement companies that make a point of giving workers regular, constructive feedback — crucial to job satisfaction and productivity, experts say — find themselves with a challenge: Good employees want to move up. But to where?

Our Fault, Not Theirs Earlier this year, Mark Richardson, president of Bethesda, Md.–based Case Design/Remodeling, was chatting with a competitor who put his company's employee turnover in the previous 12 months at 50%. While Case's turnover is nowhere near that high, Richardson points out that employee retention “is something every company ought to be more concerned about.”

Every company experiences attrition. And while some employees will leave for greener pastures, most home improvement company owners contacted for this article say compensation is rarely the real reason why the best people go. More often, employees leave to escape an uncomfortable workplace environment — that is, a place where they're overworked, underutilized, or at loggerheads with a supervisor. Richardson says a high percentage of employees exit “either because they don't feel fulfilled or they don't like their boss. And when people don't work out, it's usually because of poor training or a wrong hire. In either case, it's our fault, not theirs.”