The Impact on Labor Productivity:

Electrical construction contractors partake in labor-intensive projects; labor can be 40 to 60 percent of an electrical contractor’s total construction cost, while productivity loss is the result of many factors, little attention has been given to absenteeism and turnover. The costs associated with such a phenomenon are considerable and are accrued to the companies’ owners.

What follows is an attempt to quantify the effects of absenteeism and turnover on labor productivity, to expose factors concerning these issues, and to offer a list of best practices to reduce the labor productivity impact.

Two questionnaires were developed to conduct the qualitative analysis. One was designed to obtain management’s view. The other was for electricians in the field. A total of 1,000 electrical contracting companies throughout the United States were randomly selected and surveyed. Fifty-two management responses and 46 electrician responses were used as the qualitative database.

Both sets were given a variety of reasons for absenteeism and were asked to rate each on a scale of one to 10, with 10 signifying a strong factor. The combined three most significant reasons for electrician absenteeism are personal and family illness, bad weather and doctor/dental appointments (see Figure 1).

Electricians rated “Injury” and “Unsafe working conditions” as reasons that their absenteeism is statistically higher than managers. Injuries can play a major or minor role in absenteeism, depending on a company’s current safety polices and past experiences with injured workers.

Responding managers with an absenteeism problem rate the three reasons that relate to a worker’s attitude (“Lack of responsibility,” “Simply did not feel like working” and “Drugs or alcohol”) higher than companies without a problem. Also, managers from the Southeast rated “Lack of responsibility” statistically higher as a factor for absenteeism than managers from other parts of the country.

Electrician respondents were asked to self-report their monthly and yearly absenteeism. Thirty percent of the respondents were absent at least once in the month prior to completion of the survey. Also, 61 percent of the respondents missed between one and five days of work in the previous year for reasons other than holiday or vacation days and 11 percent missed five to 10 days.

It was found that electricians who were absent during the previous month were more likely to have lost time during their career due to injury. Seventy-one percent of electricians who were absent in the previous month were injured at least one time during their career, compared to 44 percent of workers who were not absent.

The electricians were also polled on various issues concerning the supervision they receive in the field, relationships with co-workers and everyday work environment. Data revealed that younger workers were absent more than older workers, and journeymen were more likely to be absent than foreman or supervisors. Also, as the length of time the electrician spent at one site increased, the more likely that electrician will rate working conditions and poor craft supervision as a reason for missing work. Workers who were more likely to be absent were more likely to respond negatively toward their boss/foreman. Responding electricians who were not absent during the year prior to the survey were more likely to report that their crewmembers took a strong stance against absenteeism.

Voluntary quits
The top two reasons that managers and electricians agreed on for electrician voluntary quits were “Working closer to home” and “Overtime available elsewhere.” The groups statistically disagreed on “Excessive surveillance” and “Indoor versus outdoor work” as reasons for voluntary quits. The electricians statistically rated excessive surveillance higher than the managers. Managers ranked working indoors versus outdoors higher than electricians.

This survey found that half of the responding electricians quit at least one job in their career. This number is thought to be higher industry wide, resulting in a belief that the majority of the electricians surveyed were loyal to their current company. Seventy-six percent of the respondents worked for three companies or fewer in the 10 years prior to the survey administration.

The only significant correlation between age and turnover data was that older workers tended to rate “Not enough recognition” less of a factor than younger workers. “Excessive surveillance” and “Work closer to home” were very highly correlated with number of quits in career and number of companies worked for in the past 10 years. As job site size (number of workers at the site) increased, electricians reported that safer sites elsewhere became more of a factor for leaving that job. Also, as an electrician’s job site became larger, relationships with the boss became a larger cause for turnover. Workers who have quit jobs during their career and worked for more than two companies in the last 10 years react more negatively towards their boss/foreman. Other reasons for turnover for electricians who did not get along with their crew members include the negative reaction of coworkers that get praise in front of the entire crew and inadequacy of tools and equipment.

Instituting incentives
As this research shows, absenteeism and turnover have a significant effect on efficiency in terms of total contract hours. However, there currently is not a perfect method to reducing these behaviors. Managers, supervisors and foreman need to realize the effect they have on an electrician’s morale or attitude. Granted, some electricians cannot be helped but some can, and management needs to take advantage of this. According to the respondents, four-day 40-hour weeks and incentive programs were preferred methods to help in the reduction of absenteeism on the job site. For reducing turnover, electricians wanted incentive programs and more recognition. Based on the survey results and numerous conversations with industry professionals, the research team has developed a list of best practices for electrical construction contractors.

Safe construction sites: This, as simple as it may seem, is an important factor in absenteeism and turnover. Accidents can be prevented by careful engineering and management that aims at producing the safest site possible by not taking unnecessary building risks.

Company of choice: Responses from many companies indicate that they did not have much of a problem with electrician turnover, simply because they were the company of choice. The idea is to make electricians loyal to the company by providing safe work sites, treating them with respect, providing lunch, having company picnics, having an open door policies to the boss, etc.

Incentive programs: Examples include a monetary bonus given to an electrician who completes 40 hours in a week and on large projects, where after every week of full attendance, an electrician gets a lottery ticket. And at the end of the project, a name is drawn as the winner of a large prize.

Change definition of overtime: Some local unions have recently agreed to a change in the definition of overtime. The new definition states that overtime will not be paid until 40 hours per week is exceeded. Saturday can be used as a makeup day and electricians will be paid basic wages.

Track attendance: Track the attendance record of every worker in a public place such as the job trailer.

These recommended practices aid the contractor in minimizing unnecessary absences and voluntary quits. However, habitually absent workers will probably never be changed and need to be dealt with as the company sees fit. Some workers are totally content with working only 32 hours per week. EC

HANNA is professor and chair of the Construction Engineering and Management Program, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. He can be reached at 608.263.8903 or hanna@engr.wisc.edu.

This article is a summary of the report, “The Effects of Absenteeism and Turnover on Labor Productivity for Electrical Contractors,” which was prepared for ELECTRI International—The Foundation for Electrical Construction Inc. A full version of the report can be purchased through the NECA Store or through visiting www.electri.org.