Employee Empowerment Versus Happiness: How the Right Tools Can Help Contractors Succeed

Employee happiness is not always in management’s control, but employee empowerment is a clear path to greater job satisfaction and more meaningful team interaction.
By Alec Thomson
August 4, 2021

The construction industry is known as being a field that inspires passion from those in it—and yet it is also known for its sometimes overly machismo resistance to sharing or acknowledging “feelings.” You’ll have a hard time finding a carpenter, welder or engineer that doesn’t have a few projects they’re proud to point out at any opportunity. At the same time, they’ll also have a laundry list of frustrations that accompany their jobs, including the paperwork they have to do, how they are managed by “the office” or how projects are viewed as either winners or losers while the daily challenges and victories go unappreciated.

The conflict created by these two opposing forces—the love of the work itself versus feeling like just another tool in the company tool box—can be found at contractors and construction firms of all sizes and has even played a role in the ongoing labor shortage. On one hand, managers under pressure (in any industry) can’t afford to be personal therapists, working through each issue with every individual and patting them on the back every time something goes right. Everyone has a different management style, and in an industry that is focused on timelines and budgets, most construction managers are straightforward about goals and expectations, leaving little room for “feelings” from their teams.

On the other hand, employees who don't feel valued often fail to deliver to their fullest potential and are more likely to leave the company or the field altogether. In an industry hungry for young talent, innovation and community, it may be time to take a fresh look at how to maximize and retain skill on-site and create stronger teams through empowerment.

Part of the long-term solution is clearly a cultural shift away from the hard-nosed leadership of past generations that has left many of today’s workers feeling undervalued and defeated. Another part, one that can be implemented tactically, is to roll out people-centered technology tools that allow employees to work more autonomously and actively problem solve. Completing tasks in a way that meets expectations while demonstrating their skill set and contribution to project managers and executives helps create a stronger sense of employee empowerment.

Employee empowerment differs from employee feelings or even employee happiness because it’s a work-based approach to satisfaction. It uses technology to bridge the gap between managers who must maintain their leadership styles to deliver on-time and on-budget projects, while also leveraging employee ambitions, skill sets and time—leading to increased productivity and a stronger feeling of personal accomplishment.

Not all construction technology tools fit this box, and perhaps they don’t all have to. Some new technology aims to make work easier for team members in the field, streamlining the most frustrating processes, easing employee aggravations with reporting and reducing redundant paperwork. By going the extra mile and provide employees tools that enable them to evaluate things like job cost proactively or help catch mistakes before they are made, employees can create a path forward for themselves and add additional value for the business owner.

The bottom line is that employee happiness is not always in management’s control, but employee empowerment is a clear path to greater job satisfaction and more meaningful team interaction. Deploying the right technology to employees won't solve all personnel issues, but by investing in tools that allow them to do their jobs better, faster and with less aggravation, business owners show employees value while also creating more productive, long-lasting teams.

by Alec Thomson

Alec Thomson, founder and CEO of Riskcast, a productivity and forecasting tool for the construction industry. Alec has over 25 years of experience in the construction industry working in various capacities from field engineer to strategist in Skanska USA Civil's corporate office in New York. Alec and Co-Founder Reggie Arichabala designed Riskcast to allow project teams to track labor, material, equipment and job cost in one simple to use system without the need to maintain multiple spreadsheets. Riskcast unleashes the power of real-time data to reduce risk in all areas of performance.  

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