In March this year we laid off three field staff and required the remaining employees to take a 10% salary cut. When we asked the laid-off employees to return two months ago, two of the three came back to work within a week of my contacting them. We asked the returning staff to also take a 10% salary cut, explaining that in this economy we all have to work harder and be more flexible. But even though their quick return is a good sign, they’re still worried and a little skeptical.

I’m dealing with a lot of stress myself and look for it in my employees. I recently took a week-long break and came back refreshed. I want to make sure that employees similarly recharge and have time for fun.

Sometimes it might just be a simple conversation asking an employee about what they’re doing for the weekend. A guy might tell me he’s going fishing, and I’ll respond in a positive way and might even pay for bait or buy him some fishing gear. For the company, that’s more doable right now than increasing pay.

Communication and Care

The superintendents and I keep an eye out for employees who are burned out or are having a tough day. We might take them out for a soda to find out what’s bothering them. Some of it is personal, some is work-related. They might just need to vent. If needed, I’ll send a helper to that employee’s jobsite on a Friday afternoon so he can leave early to take care of any personal issues. Even though we can’t provide raises, we have continued with quarterly reviews and plan on annual reviews next February.

After talking to the field crew, our office manager noticed that the field workers seemed to be feeling isolated and uninformed. So we started having regular meetings with them to review permits, housing sales, interest rates, and our sales projections.

Employees regularly come to us asking for our predictions on upcoming work. We’re trying to educate them and be honest about where we think the economy is headed regarding the remodeling industry and the outlook for our company.

Doing What We Can

It’s difficult to keep up morale in this environment but we’re doing what we can. We still provide matching retirement funds and pay for replacement tools.

We also try to provide little personal perks to show our appreciation — $50 gift cards or buying gas for an employee. When I was working a lot of overtime, the company owner, Mark Scott, sent a gift card to my house — but not for me, for my wife, to thank her for being understanding about the long hours. The company occasionally treats the crew to lunch as well.

courtesy Mark IV Builders

We’re more flexible about schedules and days off. We give the crew a lot of public praise. It’s easy enough to find flaws; it’s more difficult to remember to tell staff they are doing a good job.

—Andy Hannan is production manager of Mark IV Builders, in Bethesda, Md.