In the short time between August, when this survey was in the field, and early November, when we conducted phone interviews, many remodelers have had little choice but to scale back on pay, if only (they hope) temporarily. “Until 60 days ago, everything was OK,” said a Connecticut remodeler who works primarily on second homes. “But when Wall Street crashes, our clients crawl under a rock.”
This remodeler hasn’t cut staff — yet. “But they’ve been forewarned,” he said. He anticipates layoffs if he doesn’t sign contracts soon.
A few strategies being used to avoid those painful cuts:
Pay freezes and/or cuts, with the biggest paychecks bearing the brunt. One owner slashed his pay by 80%; another cut all executive pay by 30%. Others are asking trade contractors to accept small rate cuts (e.g., $5 less per hour) and to guarantee estimates.
Spot bonuses. To soften the economic blows, one company gives occasional “kickers” of $100 to $500 for exceptional performance. Another doubled some employees’ vacation time, unofficially.
Shifting health insurance. Bulwarks against rising premiums include paring back from family plans to employee-only plans, and changing from “Cadillac” PPO plans to cheaper HMOs and health savings accounts. Some employers have suspended matching employees’ 401(k) contributions.
Other strategies: repackaging pay to be more incentive-based, longer hours, and broader work responsibilities. “Your job descriptions are over,” one remodeler told his staff.
Can’t avoid layoffs? Cut the “C-players” first — those who produce less and/or need more supervision. It’s not all nickel-and-diming. “I’m keeping my highest-paid employees who ... don’t need to be babysat,” said one remodeler.
And when there’s nothing else to cut, there’s the cushion. Or there should be. “Banked money is going to be key for a lot of people,” one remodeler noted.