• Shaun O

How to keep your construction workers from leaving: 7 tips for retention


If you are a manager or owner in construction, you know how difficult it is to find good workers. The labor shortage of skilled workers is not getting any better either. This is why it’s more important than ever to retain the workers you have.

According to PeopleReady Skilled Trades, “The skilled trades are in dire need of workers right now, with a particularly high demand for apprentice-level and skilled labor positions. These are steady, well-paying jobs that hold a bright future, even in an unpredictable economic climate”.

Beyond the demand for construction workers with limited supply, many older workers are leaving the workforce as the baby boomers retire.

In this post, we discuss ways to retain workers and the importance of showing appreciation for their hard work.

What is worker retention and why does it matter?

Keeping your employees (worker retention) is critical in construction due to the high cost of replacing them. With an industry wide turnover rate of 21.4% (source: Bureau of Labor Statistics) , it’s easy to see why employee retention is something to pay attention to. The real costs of construction employee turnover include:

  1. Rehiring - getting jobs posted and spending time networking to find new workers is time consuming. The time to meet and interview and check references. This can burn up a lot of resources quickly.

  2. Training - Getting new workers up to speed on how the company works and learning the policies and procedures. This ramp up period is typically less productive than normal and will cost money. Workers need to be tough how your company likes to do things and without that knowledge, rework can be another costly outcome of new employees.

  3. Morale - The losses can be more than just that one employee. Other employees can be negatively affected by the exit of a crew member. It can lead other to look elsewhere for work. In many cases, the exiting employee will try to bring other employees with them….which can create a “snowball effect”.

How to Retain workers

Employee retention strategies in construction are not much different than other industries. With that said, workers in construction do share a few key values that they consider important. Let’s first start with some basic employee retention principles.

1) Offer a competitive pay rate

As the manager or owner of a construction company, you should know what the standard pay rate is for the various levels of skilled workers that you employ. The most common reason workers leave is because they feel they are undercompensated for their work. With the skilled worker shortage, your competition may steal your workers with a higher pay rate. This doesn’t mean you have to go give every employee a pay raise. You simply need to know if you are in the same ballpark for pay. Most workers won’t leave for a $1 more and if they do, maybe they aren’t the right fit anyway.

2) Keep workers busy

One of our primary strategies at our construction company is to keep our workers busy, even when we are slow. By committing to providing them work consistently, you take away one of the biggest fears that construction workers have…..sitting at home with no work. This is common in the industry and if you can find productive ways to keep them working, it will go a long way to retaining your workforce. One strategy is to create a service side of the business where you can drum up work when things are slow. Even doing projects at cost is a strategy to keep workers busy.

3) Understand what makes employees leave/stay

If you do have workers leaving, it’s important to find out the motivation behind them leaving. You can ask them directly or use another employee to find out. Understanding the reason can help you address the problem and keep others from leaving. I’ve seen workers leave because they didn’t get along with other employees or their manager was not treating them with respect. Find the reason and you may find the solution.

4) Create clear expectations

Every employee wants to know what is expected of them. When they have clarity of what they need to do to be successful at their work, they feel confident and in control of their destiny. This can be a simple as establishing clear start times or dress code or attitude. One of the best ways to establish clear expectations is with a company handbook that each new employee reads and signs off on. Check out BuildCenter’s free construction employee handbook template.

5) Encourage employees to have open communication

When little issues come up, employees need to be able to tell someone and feel safe about doing that. This allows you or a manager to address the issues and resolve them before it becomes a reason to leave. We had an employee that didn’t like to be called nicknames. He was a great employee and we didn’t want to lose him. We had to address this and make sure that the crew knew that nicknames can be fine for some but others don’t appreciate it and they need to respect that.

6) Show appreciation for their hard work

Doing small things to show appreciation on occasion is a great way to retain employees. Everyone likes to be appreciated and it doesn’t take much to do that. You can simply tell workers that they “kicked ass” and that you appreciate all their hard work. Another way is to bring some donuts or buy them lunch and say, here you go for doing a great job today. At our company, we are doing annual “Appreciation Events” where we come up with a fun event together and spend time with the workers outside the job site. It helps us bond with them and we get to show our appreciation for all that they do. We just had a weekend camping trip with all our supervision team and it was a blast. We have other events planned with our labor team and our project management team.

Our Supervision team appreciation camping trip

7) Incorporate technology

One possible way to decrease turnover (or at least some of the negatives that come with it) is to go digital and get tech savvy. It’s estimated that more than half employees at organizations deemed to be technologically behind are frustrated with their employers. Conversely, only about 6% of employees are frustrated who work for a technology leader. That’s a staggering difference of 750%. Incorporating apps like BuildCenter for crew scheduling and time tracking can help keep your company current with technology.


Keeping your employees is critical to your business success. It’s important to know why employees might consider leaving your company and taking steps to retain the skilled crew that works so hard.

Cheers to your construction business elevating to the next level.


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