Delphine Lee

Economic shutdowns, widespread job losses, shifting business models, and the term social distancing’s adoption into mainstream verbiage are among the many impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the most paradoxical results of the pandemic, though, is a phenomenon known as the “Great Resignation”: Despite high unemployment and labor shortages across many industries, workers have quit their jobs in record numbers.

According to the latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS), 4.5 million U.S. workers quit their jobs in November, marking the eighth month of resignations exceeding pre-pandemic highs. The high level of resignations left 10.6 million open jobs by the end of November. Workers are leaving their positions for myriad reasons, including dissatisfaction with work-life balance, fear and hesitance to return to in-person work after exposure to working from home during the pandemic, and the reevaluation of long-term career goals.

Recent data analyzed by the Home Builders Institute suggests that the number of construction workers needed to keep up with demand is approximately 740,000 new workers per year for the next three years. Despite the unexpected strength of the housing industry during the ongoing pandemic, the lack of skilled labor remains a key limiting factor for improving both housing inventory and affordability. Amid the labor shortages, turnover, and effects of the Great Resignation, the ability of construction sector businesses to not just find new workers, but retain their current workforce, has taken an even greater level of importance.

For many builders, retention is not an issue that can be solved with a one-size-fits-all tool. It requires a multifaceted approach, one that includes proper compensation, competitive benefits and offerings, strong communication and transparency, and exceptional culture.

With workers searching for better opportunities that align with their values, David Weekley Homes has positioned itself to be the “greener pasture” that employees might be seeking, according to Rob Hefner, vice president of human resources. The company has built a culture and family-like environment with an emphasis on people that employees want to stay in long term. As such, Houston-based David Weekley has had a turnover rate far below the company’s goals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Reston, Virginia-based Stanley Martin Homes, the company believes there is a strong relationship between retention and company culture and values.

“We lean heavily into highlighting living our values. We like to focus on the purpose behind someone’s job and the value and recognition of what they do. Those are the additional pieces that make it appealing [for employees to] want to stay with us,” says Debra Fletcher, Stanley Martin Homes’ vice president of team and culture.

Charissa Wagner, senior vice president of people, operations, and acquisition for Scottsdale, Arizona-based Taylor Morrison says culture plays a “vital role” in employee satisfaction, the employee base’s sense of connection to one another, and the success of the organization overall.

“Our people-first culture is one of our main points of pride and one that we feel differentiates us within our industry and beyond, helping us to at- tract and retain best-in-class talent,” says Wagner.

Meridian, Idaho-based CBH Homes understands people are the “heart and rocket fuel” of the company and places a strong emphasis to make sure employees feel loved and appreciated.

“To us it’s simple, ensure [employees] feel and know they’re loved,” Ronda Conger, vice president of CBH Homes, says about employee retention. “Are we promoting a safe work environment? Are we showing and telling them that they’re needed and are making a difference?”

Becoming a ‘Best Place to Work’

Placing an emphasis on people not only aids in internal satisfaction, but it helps with outward recognition for the company. David Weekley Homes was ranked No. 13 on Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list and ranked No. 12 on the magazine’s “100 Best Workplaces for Millennials” list. Stanley Martin was named BUILDER’s 2021 Builder of the Year, Taylor Morrison has been featured as a top place to work both locally and by Glassdoor, and CBH Homes was named the No. 1 Best Place to Work in Idaho.

“When an outside company serves up an anonymous survey to your team allowing your crew to truly share their feedback, it shows how they feel,” says Conger. “With this [Best Places to Work in Idaho] award, we know we’re doing something right. Above that, it also allows us to hear their feedback and improve our process.”

The recognition as a top builder or a top workplace is a reflection of internal satisfaction and culture, areas builders such as CBH Homes, Taylor Morrison, David Weekley, and Stanley Martin place a strong emphasis on daily within their organizations.

“We believe our people make us unique as an organization and our people-first mentality and culture set us apart from our peers,” Wagner says. “Our belief has always been that when you take care of your team members first and foremost, they will in turn take care of your customer—and then, financial success will follow.”

Hefner says David Weekley’s ranking is a testament to its competitive benefits and its culture, but not a recognition the company actively seeks. Instead, the recognition is a byproduct of David Weekley putting its people first and showing employees they are valued, according to Hefner. The recognition becomes a useful tool in recruiting new hires but does not detract from the builder’s goal of finding people who are the right match for its existing culture.

“It certainly helps to have the recognition [as Builder of the Year] and shows ourselves as a great place to work and a home builder that believes in its people and values team and culture,” Fletcher says. “But I also think that it’s our responsibility to show them that we’re really living it.”

For Taylor Morrison, Wagner says ensuring team members feel their voices and experiences are heard and valued is one of the builder’s “most vital responsibilities,” which goes a long way toward internal satisfaction. To gauge employee sentiment, the builder solicits feedback through the TMPulse survey that addresses key areas, including culture, vision, engagement, communication, experience, leadership, and execution.

“With a 71% response rate in our latest survey, we are proud that 7 of 8 respondents indicated they are enthusiastic to work for Taylor Morrison and believe their leaders adhere to our core values,” Wagner says.

Delphine Lee

Wages and Benefits

For new and current employees, monetary benefits are some of the most important for their satisfaction and decision to stay. Hefner says builders can differentiate themselves by offering benefits beyond health insurance and dental insurance. For example, David Weekley Homes offers a 401(k) with an 8% match, a rate Hefner says is far above others in the industry. The company also offers employee profit-sharing opportunities, a four-week paid sabbatical after 10 years of service, and a college scholarship program for children of team members among its robust benefits package.

Beyond medical, dental, vision, and life insurance, a 401(k) program with a company match, and paid parental leave, Taylor Morrison offers tuition reimbursement and assistance for full-time team members and family members to finish undergraduate or graduate programs and employees are eligible to apply for up to $2,000 three times in their career in the event of unexpected hardships, such as natural disasters, serious illness, or a death in the family. Taylor Morrison, David Weekley, CBH Homes, and Stanley Martin also offer discounted rates for employees purchasing homes built by their respective companies.

Conger says CBH Homes gives employees the ability to see growth within the company by adding “leader” to employee titles.

“In whatever position you’re in, we want you to lead yourself, your position, your team, and the rest of the company,” Conger says. “It’s important to us that employees know that there’s room to grow and, no matter what your title is, you’re a leader at this company.”

Taylor Morrison offers employees an intranet site with a variety of health-focused resources, including monthly mental health webinars, budget worksheets, recipes, and fitness tips. As a result of COVID-19, Taylor Morrison has enhanced its Employee Assistance Program benefits to include five free coaching sessions to team members to prioritize mental health. CBH Homes has updated its bonus structure during COVID-19 to provide quarterly bonuses instead of yearly bonuses after researching other industries across the country.

To reward employees for loyalty, some companies, such as dealer Builders FirstSource (BFS), have introduced retention bonuses for employees during the pandemic. BFS has also identified the onboarding process as important for retention, safety, and connectivity.

Culture of People

While monetary benefits have value, they are not everything. Culture and communication are just as important, if not more important, to many employees. Hefner says culture plays a major role in retention, and the culture at David Weekley plays a strong role in why many employees want to stay and build their careers with the builder. “People are who we are,” he says.

At CBH Homes, people are at the center of everything, including yearly planning. The company plans out company events, team bonding events, and summer family events on a yearly basis. The company also brings in national speakers and holds monthly leadership coffee events for employees to address personal well-being, growth, and leadership.

David Weekley employees have regular face-to-face meetings with managers, cultivating the importance of people and communication within the organization. Hefner says face-to-face time is especially important for millennial workers—an age cohort that has had the highest increase in resignation rates over the past two years. The company also surveys employees on a quarterly basis, gauging employee sentiment and engagement though questions of a scale of 1 to 5.

CBH Homes also gains employee feedback through surveys, a tool that allows the builder to identify areas for improvement and get ideas directly from its employees.

At Stanley Martin, Fletcher says CEO Steve Alloy reads each comment from company surveys and “that helps point out trends and areas for improvement, and it also tells us directionally what’s working well.” “The fact that we do listen to our team members directly on all levels of the organization is part of what allows us to keep doing the great things and then look at the opportunities we have to improve [on],” she says. “I think that strong leadership, listening, empathy to people working hard, celebrating our accomplishments, the more we can lean into that and do that, I’m optimistic that we’ll continue to be able to retain employees and team members moving forward.”

In order to place communication at the center of business operations, Taylor Morrison conducts daily huddles to have culture conversations, share inspirational stories, and timely, mission-critical business news. In addition to being an integral part of the business day, the huddles also serve as a way to reinforce culture and to build stronger bonds among team members.

“One of the ways we cultivate our TMLiving culture is through transparent, timely, and honest communication,” Wagner says. “By listening and acting on the feedback from our employees, we can promote alignment and shared ownership to foster engagement and operational effectiveness.”

Similarly, CBH Homes asks its leaders to meet on a weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly basis with their teams to put communication at the forefront of the business.

“One of our sayings is ‘run your ranch high and tight.’ From business plans to scorecards and standard operating procedures, we’ve created documents to track progress to know how the team is doing,” Conger says. “We want to meet about it, talk about it, and be about it [with our team].”

Fletcher says that even through growth—Stanley Martin adds about 100 employees annually to its workforce of approximately 850—companies can maintain their focus on people, ensuring everyone feels part of a collective whole. With a system in place that highlights employee feedback and emphasizes communication, growth and scaling do not provide challenges to existing culture or retention, according to Fletcher.

“We have a belief that if everyone feels empowered to live with our mission, vision, and values, and move the company toward them no matter the role, we can help move the organization forward,” Fletcher says. “We try to give everyone that mindset and the ability to look at how their role impacts the mission and vision and then live our values. I think that empowers people to be part of the bigger company.”

Wagner says throughout Taylor Morrison’s growth, the company has continued to prioritize employee satisfaction and has implemented programs to ensure team members feel supported amid growth. The company’s HERE Program (Helping, Retention, and Engagement) solicits feedback from company leaders to identify challenges and implement changes to retain employees and strengthen the internal team. First-year turnover at Taylor Morrison has declined from 42% in the program’s first year in 2015 to under 17% in 2020.

Delphine Lee

Importance of Onboarding

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the first 45 days of employment account for up to 20% of worker turnover and 25% of new hires would leave within a year if the onboarding experience was poor. Conversely, retention rates are doubled for companies with formal onboarding processes and nearly 4 in 5 employees indicated they would stay with their company longer if they saw a career path during onboarding.

David Weekley and Stanley Martin both place high value on onboarding to ensure new employees have all questions answered and to ensure company values are enforced from day one. Both builders give new employees time with the CEO during their first months and ensure new employees have resources every step of the way so they feel comfortable and assured in their decision to accept employment. Hefner says communication is also stressed heavily in the onboarding process for David Weekley, and a large responsibility is put on local teams to help employees get acclimated.

Stanley Martin’s team and culture team—formerly the human resources department—conducts two calls with new hires during their first week to answer questions and introduce the team and culture team “as a resource and support service.” The company offers an “employee experience course” for new hires that highlights Stanley Martin’s values and illustrates “what it means to live them” and conducts a new employee survey at 60 days to gain perspective on what is and is not working during the onboarding process.

“The way an employee is treated in their first few weeks and months on the job will lay the foundation for their time with us,” says Wagner.

At CBH Homes, the hiring and onboarding process is essential to not only make sure prospective employees are good fits for the company, but also that the company is a good fit for the employees. The selection process alone includes multiple steps that involve two personality profiles, a meeting with multiple company leaders, a tech quiz, and a video email.

“Once hired, we’ve built a culture of love and fun, and our team works together to make new hires feel welcomed, from team lunches to team-building activities,” Conger says. “When we ensure that employees are a good fit for the company, it allows for an easier transition and integration into the team.”

Taylor Morrison refreshed its onboarding process in 2020 to better help employees integrate and become accustomed to the company culture. The builder developed a manager guide to align expectations during onboarding and began offering new hires a video course walking employees through the company’s values, history, and business areas. Managers at Taylor Morrison also conduct quarterly conversations with team members to provide feedback and discuss developmental opportunities.

“We encourage our team members to be the ‘CEOs of our Careers’ and believe in lifelong learning and continual development—personally and professionally,” Wagner says.

Delphine Lee

COVID-19 Impact

While CBH Homes, Taylor Morrison, David Weekley, and Stanley Martin have not significantly felt the strain of resignations or turnover during COVID-19, the companies have noticed a shift in priorities and values among its employees.

Wagner says employees are placing a greater emphasis on mental health benefits as well as promotions and career development. In response to employee sentiment, the builder implemented a hybrid work model for eligible employees and reevaluated its comp structure to create “more frequent opportunities for growth.”

Hefner says work flexibility became very important to the employees who were able to conduct their work outside the office. However, the company also had to balance a remote segment of its workforce against the portion of its employees who had no remote capabilities and ensure it was communicating with both cohorts. While in-person meetings were not possible due to safety measures, phone calls and Zoom meetings became a way not only to conduct work, but also maintain relationships with co-workers.

Fletcher says Stanley Martin has learned the value of keeping things “efficient and simple” amid the ever-changing COVID-19 landscape.

“There’s change in where we worked and how we worked and supply shortages. Messages around continuing to communicate frequently and transparently certainly rose to the top of things we heard [from employees],” Fletcher says. “The more we can do to be efficient and simplify processes and be a great support system for our team members also rose as a theme [during COVID-19].”

Beyond hybrid work environments and improved communication, mental health has also become an area of concern for companies. At CBH Homes, Conger says the builder is promoting mental health “more than ever” since the onset of the pandemic through acts like installing signs in bathrooms, asking employees to repeat a positive mindset mantra, and increasing meeting frequencies to maintain employee connection.