Treat employees like they make a difference and they will.

Paula VakapunaThe title to this article is a quote from Jim Goodnight that Maka Lelei Brick, Block and Stone Laying Ltd have on their Facebook page. Business owners, Paula and Fran Vakapuna stand by this quote which may be why they have so many long-standing employees.

Paula says, “We don’t often have people leave because they are unhappy, it is more likely be because they've had a change of circumstance. This is a great position for our business to be in as recruitment can be an expensive exercise."

Respect is a word Paula is very comfortable with. He respects his staff and expects respect in return. He says, “I experienced being yelled at when I first started. You need to make the staff feel welcome instead of just being a worker. I don’t expect people to talk to me rudely and I don’t want to talk to people like that.

“We have some older guys with more experience and a wide range of skills so we rotate the young ones around with them on different types of jobs which is a help with the training. We look after people who have worked for us for a while so when the newcomers start they hear how Paula rolls from the more experienced guys.”

When Paula and Fran employ staff they look for the right work ethic. “They should be here to work and want to do a good job. There has to be respect for each other and they need to be willing to listen and follow instructions. Communication is a strong point for me. If there is a problem, I'm aware of it straight away and can hit it on the head smartly. We try to be pretty reasonable, give the best advice that we can but you have to put your foot down sometimes," Paula said.

Employers sometimes say that they don’t want to train as they are worried that the apprentices will become their competition of the future. Paula says, “People have left us and started up their own business, but they stay in contact and they sometimes come back to us. We don’t hold a grudge. It’s a compliment to your training if they feel they have those skills that they can go out and do something on their own.”

Pride in their work is essential and you can really see this displayed at the Maka Lelei workshop where all the apprentices and employees have had the opportunity to display some of their work and imagination. Paula says, “They have skills and this is the place they can apply the skills. I give them no set time and say create me something, everyone has their bit of the shed – they've all had a hand in this. This was wet weather work, when they couldn't lay bricks because of the weather they can came and worked here.”

Paula also understands that how he treats his staff can be good for both them and his business.  He says, “I feel good about helping people and giving them a chance. If we see that getting a work vehicle is going to make someone’s family life so much less stressful and benefit them, then we do it.  When people are treated well and rewarded for their efforts they are more likely to perform well long term.”

The number of young people in New Zealand coming out of school and looking for work is shrinking. The level of construction work in New Zealand is at a 40-year high. These two factors mean that employers have to seriously consider how attractive they are to prospective employees when career seekers have so many options to choose in the current environment.

Here's some things we know can contribute towards being a good employer:

  • Have employee first mentality – You can‘t control outputs like quality work or customer satisfaction without supporting inputs, such as everyday employee actions and behaviours.
  • Know what motivates employees – "In the past people wanted to join a company. Today they want to follow a vision and join a team" - Wade Burgess, LinkedIn. You need to ensure that your offering is beyond pay and job security.
  • Understand that employees work in days, not years – provide regular feedback. Don’t wait for the annual performance review.
  • Respect -Treat employees like customers – think of how you invest in prospective and current customers trying to find them, understand them better, retain them and communicate specifically to them.
  • Don’t just measure – Act – have your finger on the pulse and engage with employees on a weekly basis and deal with smoke before fire.
  • Involvement - employees feel involved if they have the opportunity to make suggestions and have input on work processes that affect their job.
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