The factors affecting the construction sector

construction workers talking to each other

The global construction sector is suffering more than most from the ‘War for Skills’ and an aging workforce. In part, this seems to be due to a misalignment with the monumental shift in employee expectations and needs. As such, the sector is at grave risk of losing talent it can ill-afford to. Its ability to attract, retain and get the most from the talent it has is a relentless struggle and salary hiking simply isn’t bridging the gap, nor is it sustainable. So, what’s going wrong and what needs to change?

I’ve been speaking to several construction professionals, all of whom are aged 30-45 and have spent 10-30 years in the sector; once enthusiastic and committed team players, they are now finding their passion waning. They mention that they are ‘exhausted’, ‘demotivated’, and ‘feel under-valued and disposable’. They are looking for a ‘healthier’, ‘more innovative’ and ‘friendlier’ experience. One interviewee, who preferred to remain anonymous mentioned,


“It would be nice if coming to work stopped feeling like a continuous slog”.


This is leading them to explore opportunities in other sectors where their skills are highly transferable or to seek out the employers in construction that are innovating the employee experience, changing management and leadership behaviors, and have a strong employer brand.

When I dig into the ‘why?’, what I am hearing is a worrying presence of ‘lazy’ management and a distinct lack of modern leadership. When projects are falling behind and the pressure from the top increases (which is anecdotally reported to be the case on nearly every project), managers are choosing the following tactics:


  • increasing working hours including into evenings and on weekends;
  • temporarily canceling leave entitlements (or at least threatening to);
  • pausing non-core activity such as learning & development or team building;
  • multiplying meeting length & frequency;
  • implementing micro-management & monitoring techniques;
  • and a marked increase in blame-seeking & finger-pointing.


Whilst these are often the default responses of managers under pressure, keen to gain control, and demonstrate to their superiors that they are taking action, this lazy approach to management merely leads to reduced not increased productivity. It yields a demotivated, disengaged, apathetic, and fear-driven employee base. What these employees experience is all the responsibility, pressure, and penalties being pushed down to them, with decreasing empowerment, trust, and support to enable them to turn things around.


“Millennials won’t tolerate military-style hierarchies,”


explains Carol Sigmond, Greenspoon Marder for Construction Dive (Sept 2021). In contrast, what these employees are looking for is opportunities to collaborate with their managers to identify causes and evolve practical solutions. They need managers to remove roadblocks and protect them from unnecessary distractions. They wish to be empowered by managers who create a supportive, and highly positive team environment with a ‘can-do’ mentality in which ‘we are all in it together’. Finally, they are increasingly demanding a greater focus on their health, wellbeing & the ability to better meet the demands of their personal lives. They won’t stand for high-stress and high-hours roles that compromise this for long. In a world of drastic talent shortages, they won’t have to.

Such an approach requires higher-level management & leadership techniques that call for more servantship, more energy, and more faith. These behavior and skills take time to hone, and they are likely to require not just training and development, but also ongoing mentoring too, as well as role-modeling and permission-giving from senior leaders.

While a concerted management culture review and considerable efforts to change it may be required, without evolution in this space the outlook is bleak. Recruitment difficulties and high-voluntary turnover will continue to plague the sector, projects will continue to experience increasing delays and costs, and the gap between the appeal of construction and other sectors will continue to widen, making it harder and harder to catch up over time. Sadly, many organizations simply won’t withstand this pressure.

The WellWise Diagnostics process has been designed to enable organizations to uncover the hidden factors that undermine effectiveness and cause problems that employees, especially apathetic and fearful employees, may be reluctant to bring to the attention of those with the responsibility to make the necessary improvements. It provides the clarity and insights required to understand the cause and effect of these challenges and results in a tailored strategic blueprint that navigates directly to tangible and measurable gains across the whole organization.


Check out the original post by our founder Bobbi Hartshorne:

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