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How to Motivate Construction Workers

A woman constructing the interior of a building wears an orange shirt, hardhat and tool bag while holding a metal beam and smiling at the camera.

Motivating your construction workers is something that concerns many construction project managers because if your employees are not motivated, they might not get the job done on time. While some delays are normal, many construction project managers have wondered if other delays are because their construction workers are not motivated enough to get the job done. Many studies have indicated that construction employees require various motivational techniques to stay engaged. However, applying this knowledge can be difficult on a fast-paced, high-pressure construction site.

We spoke with Aerotek Business Development Executive Josh Miles about his experiences working with construction companies and contractors. “Managing motivation is a moving target,” says Miles. “It’s constantly changing depending on what phase of the project you’re on, but you have to keep a pulse on it because unmotivated workers will find another opportunity to make equal or more money elsewhere.”

Here are a few ways you can adapt your approaches to motivation that will improve morale and keep workers engaged.

Show them a positive attitude

Managing a construction site can be exhausting and stressful, but your attitude will rub off on your employees. If you’re unhappy about being at work or are too exhausted to stay positive, your employees will pick up on this, and it can rub off on them.

“How project managers and foremen carry themselves on the jobsite can influence how the rest of the team carries themselves. If the leader on the job isn’t handling a stressful situation well, then the team is less likely to handle it well,” says Miles.

Displaying positivity can help improve the overall work atmosphere and help motivate your workers. Negativity is infectious and when it spreads people are more likely to quit. To help prevent negativity from spreading, avoid taking your frustration out on your employees. If the client is pressuring you to stick with the schedule, try not to put too much negative pressure on your team even if there was a considerable delay. If there is something you can do to help them make the deadline, do it. But keep in mind, exhausting your employees can lead to accidents. Your construction workers need to be well-rested to work efficiently and safely.

Acknowledge employees' hard work

Most employees never receive any recognition when they do a good job, and often the employees who do get that recognition do not get enough of it.

“In construction, a worker doing a good job is expected. What gets noticed more often is when something goes wrong,” says Miles.

When people are never recognized for doing a good job, they may not think it matters if they only do the bare minimum. People want to be paid well, but they also want to know that they matter and are not just faceless, replaceable cogs in the machine.

Giving your team random recognition, like a compliment or a pat on the back, is a good start, but you need to make sure you are not leaving anyone out when you focus on more random recognition. Did someone get a job done in much less time than normal? Compliment them. Did they do an exceptional job on something? Compliment them. But take the time to do it often, so your construction workers feel like they matter.

“A weekly or monthly recognition of an on-site worker doing their job well can help keep them motivated. It can be as simple as sharing that the owner of the project loves how clean the jobsite is, and then calling out those who are responsible for that duty,” says Miles.

You might see better results if you create a more formal process, like an employee of the month program. This will make your employees want to work hard enough to get that recognition and can help motivate everyone.

A staffing partner can also help communicate accolades to your contractors. They have a direct connection to your worker and can deliver feedback about their performance and help set and hold expectations.

Communicate your expectations

Many managers will simply tell their construction workers to try their best and work hard. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, they really need to know what you want them to do and the desired results.

“Everyone wants to know what they should be doing and if they’ve done a good job,” says Miles. “You’re going to get a better outcome if you relay the purpose of the task — so workers know what to aim for — and offer performance feedback.”

By communicating to your employees what you expect from them, you will get better results. For example, tell them you want this part of a project completed by the end of Friday and 100 percent complete. This tells them what you want, when you want it, and if it needs to be complete or just partially started. However, it is also important to keep in mind that sometimes things just cannot be done that quickly.

Talk to your team about your expectations and be willing to listen to their input. There might be a problem that will prevent them from completing the work in that time frame, or they might have a suggestion that will work better than your idea. Either way, hear them out. If you listen to your employees, they will feel more loyal to you, which will motivate them to work harder and to stick with your company.

Engage and challenge employees

Your employees need to feel like they are important to the big picture of the overall project. Inviting them to learn the details of what their work will accomplish will increase engagement. Tell them why the project matters and the role they are playing in making it happen. They do not just want to feel like they matter; they want to feel involved in the process. It might take more time to explain everything to an employee, but now they understand why they are lugging around bricks and lumber all day, which makes them care more.

You can also keep workers engaged by introducing new challenges. “Most workers won’t feel great if they’re just cleaning up the worksite for an entire year. Let's teach them how to do some carpentry or another skill to add on to what to what they're doing. Make them feel part of the bigger picture and ultimately add more value to the project and projects in the future,” suggests Miles.

They may carry lumber one day but then do something a little more complex the next. By changing things up, they will be more engaged in their jobs because they are doing something new. Just be sure not to add work outside of their employment contract or they may feel taken advantage of which can lead to unmotivated workers.

Josh also emphasizes the importance of having an upskilling or on-the-job training program. “How can you make your team better? What additional skills can they learn on the job? Maybe instead of sweeping the floors today, you ask if they want to learn how to frame a wall and then let them work with someone experienced in framing for a couple of days. Give them some exposure to other duties to keep them engaged.

A motivated construction team will help you complete projects more efficiently and they’ll be easier to retain for your next job. Contact Aerotek to learn more about optimizing your construction workforce and finding the right workers for the job.