Culture in Construction: Why it Matters, and How to Make it Better

Published: 11/9, 2023

There is a labor shortage in the construction industry, and it’s not exactly breaking news. Headlines declare that “nobody wants to work anymore,” but is this explanation really at the root of what’s a longstanding, industry-wide issue?

Amid the “Great Resignation,” as Baby Boomers retire and Gen Z workers reject the long hours of the construction industry, it’s more important than ever to examine the causes of this unprecedented labor shortage and explore potential solutions.

Numerous companies are feeling the pressure, especially in the skilled trades, and many have not yet been able to solve their workforce woes. After increasing pay and flexibility with little to no results, a lot of companies find themselves asking – is our company culture to blame? During a Conexpo 2023 education session titled “Culture in Construction – Is It Really That Bad?”, speaker and construction industry advocate Wally Adamchik walked through the reasons why the answer to that question is both yes and no.

The good news is that industry-wide survey results indicate the construction industry’s culture issue may not be so bad, according to the 2019 People in Construction Report, said Adamchik. In fact, 83% of people say that they would reapply for their current position, and 73% of people say that they are happy at work. However, these results are not good enough to sustain successful growth and project execution, according to Adamchik. 

In addition, there is a significant divide between project management in the office and field supervision on the jobsite. In the office, 81% of employees say that they have a close friend at work – in the field, only 50% of employees share that sentiment. On top of that, 75% of office workers feel that they can maintain a reasonable work-life balance, while again only 50% of field employees feel that they can maintain a reasonable work-life balance.

Rather than list off more statistics about the industry’s labor shortage, many leaders want information about creating a more long-lasting and motivated labor force. There are several concrete actions that can be taken to improve company culture and keep workers happy, and companies should act now to avoid losing more of their employees. 

The labor shortage isn’t exclusive to the construction industry, and these actions can be implemented in any workplace. Even organizations with good company culture can implement some of these changes to elevate employee experience:

Standards and values. Approximately 90% of survey respondents agreed that ignoring the core values of their workplace would get them into trouble. This shows that workplace values still matter, and the most visible way to manifest this is to enforce standards across the board. There should be no double standard when it comes to values. Employees will take standards and values more seriously when they are a part of company culture, and see leadership being held accountable to the same standards as employees.

Creating lasting change. Three quarters of senior leadership (those who are supposed to be spearheading change in the workplace) say that their efforts fall short. Change requires organizational capacity and requires a significant personal investment from leaders. Creating a path for change with concrete steps to follow along the way will help companies maintain organization and encourage both employees and leadership to follow through.

Encouraging and participating in employee recognition. There are a multitude of opportunities to tell employees how much they are appreciated. Chances are, on a daily basis there are numerous opportunities to give positive and relationship-building recognition. And companies that regularly participate in positive recognition are more likely to attract and retain loyal employees.

Amping up one’s referral program. About 84% of employees surveyed say that they would recommend their workplace to a friend (but don’t). Furthermore, 83% of employees say that they would reapply for their current position if given the chance. There are also several ways to increase the effectiveness of a referral program, including using an easy-to-use option, offering a mixture of incentives, announcing or re-announcing the program and recognizing current employees for referring candidates.

Bridging the gap between teams and departments. In construction, there are several discrepancies between survey answers from field and office staff members that could be corrected with a little work. For example, creating teambuilding opportunities for one’s entire staff on a monthly or quarterly basis can go a long way toward building camaraderie.

While there are several improvements that would benefit the construction industry’s culture, and company culture in general, the survey results show that the situation may not be as bad as advertised. There are several actions that employers can take to improve company culture, from enforcing values to bringing employees together. Even small actions make a big difference, and there is no better time to start than now.

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