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Nearly everything about working in construction is a challenge. The work is hard, the hours are long and just getting paid on time can be a struggle, according to a recent survey conducted by TSheets and zlien.

The people behind the data

TSheets and zlien surveyed 195 construction company owners and managers between January and April 2018. Of those, the vast majority (76 percent) worked in commercial construction, while 20 percent worked in residential construction and 15 percent worked in remodeling. Some companies had a crossover. Smaller groups of survey respondents checked the boxes for construction supply companies, excavation and equipment, restoration, landscaping and more.

Most respondents (87 percent) worked for or owned a company of 50 or fewer employees. The majority of these (54 percent) cited 15 employees or fewer.

How useful are incentives and penalties?

In an effort to get paid on time, more than a third of construction companies (39 percent) say they incentivize early payments, penalize late payments or both (57 percent say they don’t use any incentives or penalties).

Unsurprisingly, companies were four times more likely to penalize clients for late payments than offer incentives for early payments, with 23 percent of respondents saying they add interest when not paid on time.

Whether construction companies use honey or vinegar to coerce customers into paying them on time, the fact remains the vast majority of companies don’t get paid when the bill is due. In fact, when asked how often they are paid on time, only 8 percent of our respondents said “always.” A much more robust 61 percent answered “usually,” and 27 percent said “rarely.” Most surprising was the 4 percent who answered “never.”

So when do construction companies get paid?

While payment in full might not always come in on time, most companies (63 percent) say they do receive some payments regularly or in advance. More than a third report receiving payment only after the project is complete. That’s a heavy burden to bear for companies that must pay for supplies in advance and take care of employee payroll throughout.

Among those companies that received payment after the fact, most reported being paid 30 days after completion, followed by 10 day and 60 days.

The cash flow struggle gets real

It’s no surprise late payments promote cash flow problems. For 19 percent of respondents, cash flow is a constant problem, while another 17 percent say they experience cash flow problems once a month. Only 13 percent of respondents reported never experiencing cash flow problems.

Cash flow struggles are a harsh reality for the majority of construction companies and, unfortunately, those problems often bleed into future goals. One in four respondents says their cash flow problems are preventing their business from growing. Other notable problems connected to cash flow included the company’s ability to run payroll (17 percent) or their ability to take on new projects (15 percent).

The effect on payroll

When asked how they were able to make payroll in light of a cash flow problem, the most common answer (38 percent) was “we took out a short-term loan.” One in four said “employees were not paid their wages,” while 12 percent said their employees quit. Some employees (5 percent) chose not to take bonuses, while another 5 percent of respondents said business owners or leaders chose not to get paid at all so employees could receive pay. Finally, 3 percent said they took out personal loans to cover the shortfall.


This article was originally published on May 1, 2018. To view the unabridged version, please visit the TSheets Time Tracking blog.


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