It’s about retention, stupid.

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“Do you know how much it costs our business to hire 800 people, so we can staff 400?”


Unsure if it was a rhetorical question, yet certain my initial thought—”a lot”—was a poor response to verbalize to a president of a billion dollar company, I arched my eyebrows and wiggled my chin back and forth as if to communicate “Nope . . . sure don’t.”


“This whole Spanish thing—it’s all about retention in my mind. Keeping the workers we’ve already found, hired and trained to do the job.”



Recalling the story of the four words James Carville used to focus the strategy of Bill Clinton’s then-floundering 1992 presidential run (“It’s the economy, stupid.”), I scribbled in my notebook, “It’s about retention, stupid.



In this case, the president was saying, it’s about retention more than safety.

Sure, we know workers are most likely to be injured during the first six months on the job.



They’re newbies.

Or in construction terms, FNGs (f______ new guys).



After the standard-issue, new hire training process, we don’t communicate consistently with our FNG’s.

Especially if they don’t speak English—that becomes the job of the other hispanohablantes on the job.

Although well-meaning, FNGs then do dangerous stuff on the job.

Doing dangerous stuff leads to injuries and deaths.

Injuries and deaths are bad for families, business, and the bottom line.



They are expensive and suck our three most precious resources: capital, talent, and time.

So yes, of course, safety is important.



But in the midst of constant turnover, the majority of workers are always in their first 180 days.

They are always in danger.

They are always too many FNGs.


The root cause—in this situation—was retention, which in turn, led to safety problems.



So, can improved communication reduce turnover?


We discussed a slide detailing the Before and After results at his company for the question, How often do you express appreciation to Spanish-speakers for a job well done?”




Never, rarely, sometimes = 51%

Often, all the time = 49%



Never, rarely, sometimes = 14% (down from 51%)

Often, all the time = 86% (up from 49%)


The sample size wasn’t huge, but significant—at least to the president as he reviewed the data set from his employees.


“This right here—this is the slide for me. If we can communicate our appreciation, that leads to engagement. Engagement drives retention. Retention improves performance.”


More and more construction firms are challenged with finding and retaining labor.


Are you?



How many craft workers do you plan to hire in 2015?

What is your rate of turnover with craft workers?

How much is this costing your business?



Here is how much:


Communication (small investment)

+ Appreciation (essentially zero investment)


Retention (BIG savings)



How much will the retention savings be?


A lot.




Bradley Hartmann is founder and El Presidente at Red Angle (, a training, consulting and eLearning firm bridging the English-Spanish language gap in the construction industry.

Categories: Construction Spanish, Jobsite Leadership

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