Home Improvement Companies Seek Formula for Employee Retention

Worker happiness is now at a premium, as competition for good employees intensifies and turnover costs rise

May 22, 2015

If you happen to drop by Dreamstyle Remodeling’s new 20,000-square-foot Albuquerque, N.M., facility on Tuesdays and Thursdays after hours, you may be taken aback to see a yoga class in session. There, between window and sunroom displays, are Dreamstyle employees on mats, moving from the Triangle to the Downward Dog pose. The 25-year-old company, operating in New Mexico and Arizona, opened the showroom for yoga classes after several employees expressed interest. Class is on company time, and a certified yoga instructor, who’s also a Dreamstyle employee, leads it.

Dreamstyle Remodeling and its owner, Larry Chavez, have found other ways to make this a business where employees enjoy hanging out. The company encourages workers to bring their pets to work, shelters a pair of young cats abandoned by their mother and taken in as mascots, and recently sponsored “Cupcake Wars,” a culinary competition for staff. All of this is in stark contrast to the Glengarry Glen Ross environment once associated with exterior remodeling companies. “People are proud to work here,” Chavez says. A company culture that encourages employees to be themselves “has had a terrific impact on people’s attitudes and motivations,” he adds.


The New Customer

Dreamstyle is not the only home improvement company committed to making itself a great place to work. With competition for employees and turnover costs both mounting, companies that only a few years ago were trimming benefits, compensation, and payroll now look for ways to keep people by making work less stressful. They’ve reexamined the employer-employee relationship and have concluded that workers who like their jobs are more productive and less likely to be tempted to look elsewhere.

“It’s always been important,” says Scott Siegal, owner of Maggio Roofing, in Takoma Park, Md. “But it’s getting more and more important because things are starting to heat up now.”

If the idea that happy workers make for happy customers is just common sense, it is also, like common sense, not all that common. According to a 2013 Gallup reportonly 30 percent of Americans feel engaged at work. That means that the rest report each day with less passion and enthusiasm than employers might hope for, or none at all.

“It means they’re working for you, but they’ve already resigned and forgotten to tell you that they’ve resigned,” says Sam Geist, speaker, consultant, and author of Would You Work For You? a book that looks at the quality of leadership in business organizations and its effect on morale. People are the biggest expense on a balance sheet, Geist points out. They are “the face of your brand,” he says, “the ones that add value.” Yet, they typically get the least attention from managers and executives.

This lesson is not lost on some home improvement companies, which now hold the perspective that the customer they need to treat best is the one on their payroll. “People don’t leave because they’re happy or because they’re being treated fairly,” says Mike Damora, vice president of sales and marketing at K&B Home Remodelers. The New Jersey exterior replacement company offers employees 100 percent paid health care coverage at a time when others are still scratching their heads trying to figure out how to restore benefits slashed during the recession.

What Makes Them Stay

So what makes employees want to stay at a job—especially a job with a home improvement company, which doesn’t even have the glamour of retail? Is it salary, benefits, a mutually supportive culture?

“If you asked management why people stay, and then you asked employees, you’re going to find that the reasons are very different,” says Marilyn Macfarlane, an HR consultant who has worked with many home improvement companies that are members of Certified Contractors Network. Surveys bear that out. Employers believe that compensation is what attracts and keeps workers. But stress can make compensation irrelevant, especially the stress that results from conflicts with managers or fellow employees.“People join companies,” Macfarlane says. “They leave managers.”

In fact, “Appreciation for your work” topped the list of 10 factors for employee happiness on the job, according to "Decoding Global Talent," a study by the Boston Consulting Group published in October 2014 and based on answers from 200,000 survey respondents. Next on the list were:

• Good relationships with colleagues

• Good work-life balance

• Good relationships with superiors

• Company’s financial stability

Salary ranked No. 8.

Those results wouldn’t surprise Siegal. Different rewards, he points out, appeal to different types of people, and it’s important to have a mix of people. Compensation and benefits are important—and have to be at or above competitive rates—and so, too, are profit sharing, bonus programs, and paid time off. But what builds loyalty across the board is appreciation.

“Most owners look for what employees are doing wrong and try to fix it,” Siegal says, “rather than looking for what they’re doing right and patting them on the back.”

Chavez recently set up a two-minute pre-recorded broadcast that, at 5 o’clock every Friday afternoon, goes to 363 cell phones—everyone from department heads to those knocking on doors as part of the company’s canvassing crews gets the call. He talks about events at Dreamstyle Remodeling and about individual accomplishments. “I try to mention as many names as possible,” he says.

Siegal points out that what also encourages people to stay, especially for younger workers at home improvement companies, is a career path. Showing employees a clear means of advancement and how to move along that path can go a long way to strengthen retention.

Communication & Inclusion

Also important, say experts and company owners alike, is letting employees know that it’s not all about the owners or the managers, it’s about them as well.That’s something the executives at Kearns Brothers, a suburban Detroit home improvement company, know a few things about. This spring the company threw a taco party as part of its annual spring housecleaning. Thirty of its 45 employees came in after hours to straighten up the Dearborn showroom.

“Last summer I brought in an ice cream freezer,” says Gary Kearns, vice president of sales and marketing. A newly hired customer service worker asked Kearns why it was there.

“I said: 'Why not? It’s hot out. It’s the Fourth of July,'” PR

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