In cold climate regions, weather-dependent construction projects are often delayed or shut down until the return of warmer weather. These seasonal work stoppages create a yearly dilemma for employers - how to retain seasonal employees and keep them coming back year after year. High employee turnover rates can cut deeply into profits, and the inability to retain highly skilled, motivated employees is a common cause of business failure. Here are some simple, inexpensive steps you can take to ensure your best team members don’t run over to your competitors who are undoubtedly waiting for them with open arms.
Set start and stop dates
Even though the weather will ultimately dictate the work season, assign a start and stop date and make sure that everyone knows those dates. As they approach, keep an open dialog with your employees. Some of them will be thrilled to start a couple weeks early or be willing to work beyond the established stop date. Others will likely have made vacation plans or have other obligations they’ve scheduled based on the start and stop dates. Find out who can alter their plans and don’t penalize those who can’t.
Stay in touch
Absence does not always make the heart grow fonder. While you don’t want to pester your workers during the off-season, you don’t want them to forget about you either, or worse, let them believe that you’ve forgotten about them. A birthday card or holiday gift can go a long way to maintain a healthy relationship. A periodic newsletter intended specifically for employees is also a good way to stay connected. Keep the newsletters light and informal. Include your team members’ personal events and milestones. You could even ask if some of your employees would like to contribute their own anecdote or announcement. Go ahead and mention relevant industry-related news items, but save the serious business announcements for the first staff meeting.
Keep employees busy
Many seasonal workers in the construction industry rely on overtime pay to make up for a shorter work year and downtime due to nasty weather. Of course, not everyone will want to work 60+ hour weeks, but during the hiring process, you should make it clear that overtime pay will be made available and then deliver on that promise. Overstaffing and poor scheduling are almost guaranteed to cause your ambitious seasonal workers to jump ship.
Beware starting an off-season business
Many employers have been tempted to start an off-season business just to keep their most valuable workers happy or to avoid paying higher unemployment insurance tax rates. But starting a business that you have little interest in and that is outside of your realm of expertise is not always a recipe for success. Seasonal workers work very hard during the “on-season” and many don’t mind taking a few months off, especially if they’re eligible for unemployment benefits. Sometimes it just makes more sense to pay the higher unemployment insurance tax rates and spend the downtime preparing for the upcoming season. If your best employees insist on working year-round, try to team up with a local business that’s looking to hire seasonal labor during the part of the year when you can’t keep your workers busy.
Support foreign workers
Employees working in the United States under the H-2B program face challenges that US citizens do not. They may not ask for it, but it’s likely they’ll appreciate assistance completing difficult government forms and other paperwork. Offer to help them make travel arrangements or secure safe and affordable housing. You could even allow them to use the business P.O. box as a temporary address. Helping your non-citizen team members to hurdle the barriers that will inevitably arise due to language and cultural differences will go a long way to build trust and foster loyalty.
Create a fulfilling culture
The idea is to create a culture that makes your employees “want” to come back year after year. Without basic tenets like competitive pay, safe working conditions, rewards for hard work, and potential for advancement, you have a smaller chance of maintaining valuable employees. And there’s no way to know which strategies or policies will appeal to your team members without asking them. As with any relationship, communication is key.