By Lauren Neal, Author of the #1 Bestseller Valued at Work

In 2021, The Great Resignation became synonymous with the high number of employees leaving their jobs worldwide, particularly those from under-recognized groups. Common reasons for resigning included:

  • Hostile work environments;
  • Lack of opportunities for career advancement; and
  • Generally non-inclusive workplace cultures.

But as a leader, what can be done? To improve workplaces – particularly in construction – there need to be conscious and consistent efforts driven by visionary organizational leaders focusing on:

  • Workplace behaviors;
  • Inclusion of the right skills and
  • Empowerment of future leaders.

The best construction leaders understand and value their workforce and create truly empowered and diverse teams to deliver top business outcomes and innovations.

Acknowledging Your Organization’s Behaviors

Leaders in construction organizations often look to those reporting to them to advise of any issues – whether that be about the delivery of work or about people. Delivery of work is a tangible issue where most can find solutions to address any problems, but it is much more difficult when problems concern people. A starting point is to gather data from those involved and to understand their experiences.

  • Listen to those impacted by disrespectful behaviors by creating or joining an employee resource group. In safe spaces such as these, employees are encouraged to share their real-life experiences without fear of retaliation or fear of their experiences being shared outside of the group.
  • Beware of inauthenticity, especially in leadership. Focus on identifying and showcasing authentic role models at all levels based on their performance, behaviors, and internal or external recognitions. Those individuals will feel seen and can help build relationships throughout the organization.
  • Measure psychological safety regularly to understand the team’s level of comfort with each other and areas that need to be improved. Emotional intelligence is vital for leaders and showing vulnerability and authentic humility helps to connect with their teams by building trust and transparency.

Including the Right Technical Skills and Recognizing Performance

Recognizing existing talent within a construction organization is essential for employees to feel valued – there is nothing more frustrating than feeling passed over! It is particularly troubling when highly competent and confident individuals are stuck in unchallenging roles.

Key areas where a leader can look to understand the situation:

  • How much office housework does this person do? This can include sharing their screen during meetings (even when not the presenter), booking the meeting rooms, organizing away days, etc. If these types of activities keep falling to the same person, and are not part of their job description, there is a problem that must be solved. Employees should be regularly asked if the work they are doing is meaningful and will help them develop their career.
  • Is constructive feedback being provided? Without timely, actionable feedback, it is difficult for anyone to know how they are doing or how to move forward. Employees should be asked about the last time they received feedback and rate the quality and impact it had on their development actions. This will help to identify if improvement on providing feedback is needed.
  • Is bias getting in the way? Bias hinders inclusion and can stifle employees, for example, where a man and a woman behave the same way but one is referred to as “the boss” and the other as “bossy.” These biases can have a significant impact on how a person is treated in the team and should be discussed openly to create a culture of transparency.

Empowering Your Future Leaders

Leadership continues to evolve, and in today’s world, many no longer tolerate authoritarian leadership styles. To get the most out of employees and to help them reach their potential, it is critical for today’s leaders in construction to develop the next generation of leaders to not only feel recognized and valued but to ensure the business remains as competitive as possible.

The next generation needs their current leaders to be ethical, inclusive, and trusting to provide the best environment for them to grow.

  • Ethical leadership – Leaders who do the right thing regardless of any short-term negative consequence will gather more respect than those found to take unethical actions. Showcasing role models who have spoken up without any negative impacts to their careers or reputations will help to encourage employees to do the right thing without fear of retaliation.
  • Diversity means nothing without inclusion – Organizations perform better with diverse teams, but diversity requires inclusion. Ensure efforts to make diverse teams are not seen as ‘box-ticking’ as this has a negative impact on those from under-recognized backgrounds as well as others who may feel overlooked. Instead, drive a culture of inclusion. For example, request input from each person during a meeting, and encourage the team to really listen and consider all of the input.
  • Trust and advocacy for career progression – Great work needs to be recognized by leaders regularly, and leaders need to advocate for others to ensure they are not forgotten, particularly when they are from an under-recognized group. When a leader publicly recognizes employee’s skills and capabilities for a new role, it helps set employees up for success when transitioning into new positions and teams.

Too often, employees in under-recognized groups feel invisible, frustrated, and undervalued in the workplace, but organizational leaders have the ability and opportunity to change this. Great leaders in construction will make the time to get to know employees at different levels of the organization and learn about their experiences, needs, and expectations at work. While there will still be workplace attrition, the goal is to keep it within acceptable levels and be consistent across both recognized and under-recognized groups. By driving inclusive workplace cultures that benefit everyone, leaders can create psychologically safe environments where everyone can feel valued.

Lauren Neal is an award-winning chartered engineer and chartered project professional in the energy industry. Since 2005, she has been working with men and women offshore, onshore, and onsite on multimillion-dollar projects across the globe. Chartered through both the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the Association of Project Management (APM), Lauren is a sought-after speaker, writer, and consultant championing gender equity and career progression within STEM.

About Valued at Work:

Your gender stats are tumbling, women aren’t advancing, their feedback is poor, and too many are leaving. What’s going on?

Women navigating a traditionally male-dominated technical sector too frequently feel invisible, frustrated, and undervalued in the workplace. Lauren Neal has been there, and she’s developed tried-and-tested approaches that male-dominated organizations can take to engage, enable, and retain women because only a truly empowered, diverse workforce can drive the best business outcomes and innovations.

Inspired by real-life stories, Valued at Work gives you the tools to drive real change without alienating any of the workforce!

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Photos by Freepik, PCH.Vector, and Pressfoto.