How to Manage Construction Workers in 5 Simple Steps


Sep 9, 2022

Labor costs remain the top priority of many construction companies. As a construction company owner or manager, you already understand that good project supervision boosts worker performance and aids in completing projects within allocated budgets. However, managing construction workers is markedly more difficult when they are unmotivated.  A motivated workforce is more productive, making a proper understanding of management techniques to boost workers’ motivation and, thus productivity a critical objective.

In this post, you’ll learn five proven ways to manage construction worker motivation and productivity from experts who have accumulated years of experience managing high-volume construction operations. 

5 Effective Ways to Manage Construction Workers

These are the five surefire ways to manage construction worker motivation: 

  1. Set clear expectations

Setting well-laid down expectations is the first step. Employees need to understand both “what to do” and “what success looks like”. Humans like to know what is expected. When left vague, you will not get the same consistent movement to the objectives you have. When things are not clear, you also spend more time handling questions and, even worse, finding that work was incorrect. 

Establishing clear goals, quality levels, and key performance indicators helps establish a picture of success, motivating workers to deliver high-quality jobs on schedule. Moreover, if a manager wants to accurately track employee performance, having clear expectations and goals supports accurate measurements of such performance.  

  1. Prioritize employee engagement

A survey by Gallup revealed that companies that prioritize employee engagement see 17% higher productivity than companies that do not. 

We invest in many tools to communicate with clients, owner reps, architects, engineers, vendors, and our management teams. This communication is vital to the success of a construction project. Communicating with front-line construction workers is equally crucial but often does not get the same level of systems or attention. As a result, the team that actually does the work often gets the least information. 

It is important that communication goes beyond just “project specifications” and moves to a level of engagement on things like best practices, schedule changes, and logistical situations (materials, permits, inspections, etc), just to name a few. It is equally important to take input on opportunities to improve the project quality, speed, safety, costs, etc. 

In some ways, the most critical is that management should share with employees both micro and macro goals on their job. As an example, you might share both that to make the job profitable, the job needs to be completed in this set target number of hours and maybe that the goal is to spend less than $XX,XXX on materials.  Whatever works for your projects that lets you share MORE details with the front-line workers who will make or break those goals.

  1. Adopt technology that has specific benefits, not theoretical ones

Construction companies have many moving parts, and there seem to be “systems” for making all of it better in some way. Estimating, logistics, contracts, materials, permits, safety, project management, change orders, performance management, payroll, and so many more. Since it is not possible to implement everything or even to know what is going to deliver on its promise, the recommendation we have is to focus on systems that have the most specific benefits.

In particular, adopting solutions for managing change orders can have an almost immediate impact and a good project management platform is likely critical. Since we have established employee engagement is critical, we feel platforms that feature improved communication are of extra benefit.  The best systems impact communication and improve multiple KPIs. 

For example, Protiv helps construction companies to more accurately estimate project costs, set target labor expenses, and reward workers for their productivity.  Combined with its engagement tools to keep workers informed about goals, it combines many values into one platform. 

  1. Reward employee performance

A recent survey revealed that 39% of employees feel underappreciated, while 77% say they will work harder if recognized. However, it is important to understand what “recognized” means to an hourly worker living paycheck to paycheck. Let’s face it; construction work can be difficult, so frankly, “recognition”  means that they want to get paid if they are going to “work harder”.

Our goals are not as simple as just “work harder”.  We need a lot more specificity. This means establishing the KPI that those workers can personally (or as a team) actually impact.  You would not want to have a reward program for your carpenter that was tied to something controlled by the architect. 

We might often broadly put most of our KPI into the buckets of schedule, quality, and safety.  Now it is important to recognize that rewards have to be linked directly, to the behaviors that make a difference in your KPIs.   So this gives us two key learnings – 1) Rewards need to be linked directly to the achievement of KPI, and 2) the achievement of those KPI must be impacted, primarily, by the team you are looking to reward.

Doing this correctly creates a powerful set of positive changes for most construction teams.  Managing workers is much easier when employees are personally motivated to achieve their goals. We need quality work done safely and on schedule.  Rewarding employees for completing and delivering that quality work makes them feel like part of a team and recognized for “working harder”. 

Protiv helps construction companies to implement worker compensation based on KPIs, on targets like schedule adherence, material spending, quality, and more.  The result is labor costs drop by 10% on average, and jobs finish 20% faster.  For most contractors, this doubles profit margins.

  1. Address underperformance issue

You have some rockstar team members.  The guys who just get it done every day.  We love our best workers, but it is likely you have some that are, well, less. Since delivering safe, quality work consistently is the goal, anyone who risks achieving those objectives can be a real problem.  Contractor’s average profit margins are less than 3.5%, so missing KPIs due to underperforming team members can absorb all the profits really fast. 

The faster you can identify underperformance issues the better.  Using tools that link worker pay to the company KPIs helps expose workers who are holding you back.  If they are just a little underperforming, there may be options for training, adjusting wages, etc.  However, when the performance data shows others that are holding you back a lot, we recommend making changes quickly.

Manage construction workers with Protiv

Going forward, we are all hiring from a smaller and smaller pool of workers, which makes recruiting and retaining the best people in our industry increasingly competitive.  In some cases, small mon/pop business owners often compete with prominent brands for top-skill employees.

Therefore, as you better understand construction workers’ motivation, you can create a culture to attract and retain the best workers. Setting clear goals, improving employee communication, adopting technology solutions, correctly rewarding performance, and quickly addressing underperformance are all key steps to achieving this goal.

At Protiv, we help contracting companies build a culture that fosters accountability, productivity, and employee engagement, using ProPay.  Similar to paying workers like subcontractors, Protiv will lower your labor costs by empowering your employees to complete quality jobs faster.

Sign up for a demo on how we can help you reduce your labor cost by 10% and probably double your average profit margins – all while paying employees better wages that are linked to the quality work they produce.  An evolution to hourly pay, Protiv is transformational to contractors.