Current employment shortages and challenges have some roofing contractors feeling trapped and resorting to poor personnel practices. When it comes to employee situations, desperate times do not mean you should make desperate decisions. Employees who hold you hostage for more money rarely become solid long-term workers. The solution isn’t merely paying more in an attempt to “buy” loyalty. Rather, the solution lies in having better personnel practices and a more long-term outlook on employment.  With that said, sound management practices haven’t changed and caving in to current labor shortages isn’t going to make bad management practices turn into good ones.

The first rule of managing people is to terminate attitude problems and train skill problems. Attitude problems might be described as the person “won’t” do it and has chosen not to participate. Skill problems are when the person “can’t” do it even if they want to. When employee performance drops, ask this question: “If I gave this person $1 million could he or she do what I was asking?” For example, if you fell over dead, I could give you CPR and would be motivated to do so. But if that didn’t work, you might as well go to heaven or hell in one piece, as I do not have the skill required to cut you open and repair things. 

Be careful of misdiagnosing a skill-oriented problem as an attitude problem. Many employees don’t readily admit they can’t do something and what might surface is a face-saving remark. A classic example of this is an employee that has poor paperwork and handwriting skills. Rather than admit to their lack of education or ability, employees tend to say things like “I’m not a secretary” or “this paperwork is stupid.” Make sure you ask enough questions to determine the true problem. Remember, problems are a “cause” of a situation where symptoms are a “result” of the cause. For example, employee turnover isn’t a cause but rather a symptom. Are you having turnover because you don’t pay adequately, have a bad supervisor or don’t respect your workers? You can’t cure a symptom but rather must focus on the true cause.

When dealing with workplace problems, focus on the future and solutions, not excuses. Avoid asking ‘why’ questions. Why questions drive the discussion into the problem, not the solution. Asking an employee why he or she is late will yield a barrage of excuses, such as “the baby kept me up,” “my grandmother died,” etc. Instead, focus on the future with an approach of “You’re late. What can we do to ensure you’re on time in the future?” 

Don’t be a barking dog with no teeth. Many supervisors bark termination threats but rarely actually fire anyone for fear of not being able to replace them. Bark less and when you do bark, be prepared to put some teeth into what was said. 

Back to Pay

You must pay a competitive wage to make sure you’re attracting the right people. The bottom end of the pay market has increased dramatically in recent years. In my opinion, in most markets it takes at least $14 an hour to attract a person who can afford to travel back-and-forth to work and show up each day. Paying lower than that tends to attract people whose living wages are so, they can’t afford to fix a flat tire and show up. Also, remember you’re looking for people who don’t work in air conditioning and do go home dirty. Many people just don’t see construction as a viable employment opportunity. The National Association of Home Builders recently conducted a survey of people between the ages of 18-24 and found only 3 percent saw construction as an employment opportunity. 

Nothing on the U.S. or Canadian employment horizon shows this attitude will change. In fact, as an employer you’re fighting entrenched economic and social trends. Going against such trends isn’t easy. Economic success has always been tied to the allocation of scarce resources, and today that resource is labor. To compete in today’s labor market, you must change your ways but changing your ways doesn’t mean becoming a bad manager. Change your ways means:

Work harder and be more creative as a recruiter. Look for employees as aggressively as you look for jobs.

Make sure you’re paying competitive entry wages. Survey your local economic data, ask other businesses, advertise starting wages and see what it takes to fill the need.

Make sound financial decisions, which might include raising your prices a couple of bucks an hour and investing that in personnel. Focus on procuring profitable work. I’ve found most contractors go bankrupt when they’re busy, not because they don’t have any work. Job cost with precision and understand what types of work to avoid.

Be a better place to work. Make sure your good employees appreciate you and gain their feedback and buy-in. Remember, loyalty is about relationships and job purpose, not dollars. Don’t believe me? The next time your kid makes you a Father’s/Mother’s Day present or your mom fixes dinner, ask them how much you owe them? See how well that insult flies. 

Roofing contractors aren’t material suppliers. They make money by producing things and producing things requires a workforce. I know employees can leave a bitter taste in our mouths because of all the problems they can cause throughout the years. However, they’re your most important profit contributor and you can’t succeed without them.