Five Potential Areas of Improvement for Design Firms to Reduce Unnecessary Turnover

The U.S. economy grew faster than initially thought in the second quarter, notching its quickest pace in more than two years, and there are signs that the momentum was sustained at the start of the third quarter. Source – Reuters

Given that, the economy is humming along, combined with current U.S. unemployment rates, hovering around 4.2%, labor remains a huge concern for design industry firms. There just aren’t enough Licensed, Architects, Engineers, Planners, Landscape Architects, and Environmental Consultants to do the work that most firms currently have. And it looks like the dearth of talent will be with us for some time, making it increasingly important for AEP and Environmental Consulting firms to align employee retention with their overall business strategies.

As a firm providing executive search services nationwide, here are some common things that we see design firms doing that should be avoided:

Poor Communication: Although Architects and Engineers sometimes change jobs to “keep their creative juices” flowing, the number one reason why people talk to recruiters, like us, is dissatisfaction with their supervisors. They’re typically poor communicators, and their employees often feel frustrated as a result.

Micro-Management: Show me a manager who can’t empower and trust people with the smallest of tasks, and I’ll show you people running for the exit signs to find other places to work.

Bureaucracy:  People like autonomy, and respect. Most design people are reliable professionals, who should be trusted to handle lots of tasks. Empower them with responsibilities, and see them thrive.

Internet: When we hear about firms that limit access to the Internet, we get excited because it means that we’ll probably find employees interested in jumping ship. Prohibiting access to the Internet, for fear of lost production, creates cultures of mistrust. It says, “we don’t feel you’ll manage your time productively, and get your work done.”

Work Schedules: Most A/E/P and Environmental consulting industry employees are salaried, so why do some managers get uptight whether someone arrives at the office at 8:00 or 8:05 or leaves at 5:00 instead of 5:30? These are often the same employees calling into the office when they’re on vacations, or working 50+ hour weeks during crunch times. Are some people problem employees who have trouble showing up to work? Sure, but those are the minority and should be addressed individually. Don’t make life miserable for everyone else, especially when many of those people are important team members.

Even if GDP slows in 2018, expect the labor shortage to continue for AEP and Environmental Consulting firms. And recruiting “new hires” will become even more expensive than it is today, making it a lot cheaper to keep existing staff than it will be to replace them. So, if your firm is doing some of the things above, it’s probably time to stop.

About the Author

John Kreiss
John is an experienced Executive Search Consultant specializing in the recruitment of AE industry talent. For over 15 years he has advised and assisted architecture, engineering, planning, landscape architecture, and environmental firms in filling key positions and making strategic hires.

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