Nobody's Perfect

The typically small size of remodeling companies provides limited opportunities for advancement, and that is a source of frustration for several respondents.

May 31, 2002

Most of the employees who filled out the 101 Best questionnaires provided enthusiastic endorsements across the board. In fact, many came up with no suggestions when asked "What one thing about your company would you like to improve?" Others, however, saw room for improvement. Not surprisingly, quite a few people, mostly field crew, want larger paychecks. Several wish for higher wages; others hope for more overtime or bonuses.

Benefits were often mentioned, too: paid vacation, sick days, better health insurance, the addition of dental insurance.

Some long for improved equipment to use on the job: company vehicles, better-quality and better-maintained tools. A few want better communication - sometimes in the same companies in which other employees praise the level of communication.

The typically small size of remodeling companies provides limited opportunities for advancement, and that is a source of frustration for several respondents. The companies might be small, but some apparently have outgrown their space because several employees mentioned the need for larger offices.

Some unique responses especially piqued our interest. Here is a sampling:

  • "The owner. He is both the secret to our success and our weakest link." A carpenter

  • "The old adage about 'the squeaky wheel' is still applicable. I think we can do better by focusing attention away from the ones who always 'squeak' the loudest." An office manager

  • "There are many, and the one thing that is needed the most is that they treat the employees with the same appreciation and respect as they do the client because without one you do not have the other." (A follow-up phone call to this person revealed that he since has left that company.) A department director

  • "I would like to see our company develop a really great office/sales team and then keep them. Turn-over in our 'support team' is hard on the field employees." A project manager/lead carpenter

    Looking at the overall picture, three categories showed weakness among many remodeling companies in the 101 Best. If you expected to see compensation in the top slot on the gripe-o-meter, you're in for a surprise: It's third, behind fairness and training.

    Perhaps needing a greater sense of fairness and more training isn't particularly surprising, considering the size of the typical remodeling company. Most employees of the listed remodelers report a strong sense of family within the company, and undoubtedly these "family members" talk to each other about events within the company.

    Actual family politics often come into play as well, so it's natural that longtime employees might resent perceived favoritism toward a relative of the owner.

    At first glance, the lack of training seems puzzling, given the availability of many courses. However, finding time to attend such classes isn't easy, especially when business is good, and finding the money isn't always easy, either, especially when business is slow.

    That old bugaboo compensation will be with us always. The labor market might have loosened somewhat, but the need for truly qualified tradespeople is still critical, with no letup in sight. Many hourly wage earners look at their paychecks as a measure of their worth to the company.

    Perhaps it's time to consider a frank discussion with all personnel of the overall cost of compensation per employee, including health insurance, workers' comp, retirement plans, company vehicles and other directly employee-related expenses. That might provide a more accurate picture of how much employees are really being "paid," even if it never shows up on their paychecks - and they never pay income taxes on it.

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