To Temp or Not to Temp
Five Things You Should Never Say to
To Temp or Not to Temp
My wife and I own a design-build residential remodeling
company in California. Like most builders, we're constantly
trying to balance our operating capabilities with demand for
our services and we're always on the lookout for good
employees. Like any company owners, we want people who are
decent, hardworking, and flexible, who are interested in
learning and growing, and who will represent our company well.
Finding such people who are interested in a career in
construction is a growing challenge.
Rising to the Challenge
Our company uses in-house labor for project management,
demolition, rough carpentry, and finish carpentry. But we don't
always have enough in-house employees to complete all the
projects needed to meet our receivables goal for the year. One
of the solutions we've found is to use temporary labor, and,
like most solutions, this one has advantages and
In California and elsewhere, workers' compensation insurance
costs are escalating at an alarming rate. One advantage of
using temporary employees is that their hourly rate includes
the cost of workers' comp, plus all payroll taxes (local,
state, and federal), Social Security withholding, and
unemployment taxes (state and federal).
We work with a temp agency called CLP Resources (formerly
Contractors Labor Pool). If we have a large job scheduled and
think we might need to add a good carpenter, we contact CLP's
local representative several weeks in advance and ask him to be
on the lookout for an appropriate person. The more lead time
you give an agency, the better your chance of getting the best
person for your job.
The cost for temporary labor is higher than the cost for an
in-house employee, for several reasons. As Noel Wheeler, the
CEO of CLP, points out, the hourly rate for a temp employee
incorporates the cost of employee benefits, in addition to all
the taxes and insurance costs just mentioned. At CLP, those
benefits include medical and dental insurance, 401K retirement
savings, paid vacation, and safety incentives. You might not
offer that many benefits to your in-house employees. Also
included in the fee are overhead and profit for the temp
This adds up to about 1.75 to 2 times what a regular employee
of equivalent skills would earn on an hourly basis. In our
company, taxes, insurance, and similar benefits create an
actual hourly cost of about 1.5 times the hourly wage, so we
pay a premium to use temporary labor. It's important to
anticipate that cost when preparing estimates for projects that
will probably require temp labor.
Making It Work
To get the most out of temporary help, always have an in-house
employee work with the temp employee — never leave the
temp worker on a site by himself. Last year our company started
several projects before we were ready. We had more sites open
than we had lead carpenters and other in-house employees, so to
keep the work going on the different sites, we relied heavily
on temporary help. Occasionally, a site was staffed only with a
temp, who was unfamiliar with our company's standard way of
doing things and lacked an employee's motivation to meet the
budget. The projects did get done, but several took longer than
they should have and therefore didn't generate the gross profit
we had anticipated.
As a result of that experience and a reduced workload, we
backed off of our reliance on temporary labor. And we made a
rule that we would use temp labor only on sites that are also
staffed by an in-house employee.
Hiring Temp Workers for Real
Temp agencies generally discourage customers from permanently
hiring temp employees. CLP charges contractors a buyout fee
based on the hourly rate of the temporary employee and the
amount of time he has worked with the company that wishes to
hire him permanently. The fee can amount to several thousand
dollars. A company may be able to waive the fee, however, if it
does a substantial amount of business with the temp agency.
Many temp agencies also require customers to observe a waiting
period before hiring tradespeople away from the agency.
We met two of our best employees as temps. Both people worked
with us on and off for several years, which enabled us to get
to know each other before they joined our company. We were
careful to observe the agency's rules when we hired its
employees as permanent members of our staff.
If you choose to use temporary help, be clear about the real
costs, expect less than you would of an in-house employee,
always have the temp work with a staff employee, and keep your
eyes open. You might see a future member of your
Paul Winans, CR,is co-owner with his wife, Nina, of
Winans Construction, Inc., in Oakland, Calif.
Five Things You Should Never
Say to Customersby Ruth King
When your office staff is busy and the phone is ringing off
the hook, it can be easy to say the wrong thing to a customer
who calls to complain. The customer may be upset because one of
your employees or subcontractors didn't show up when you said
he would. Or maybe the work took too long or something in the
customer's home got damaged. Whatever the reason, the person
who answers the phone for you needs to deal with the client in
a constructive manner. The goal should be to calm angry clients
and take care of their problems as quickly as possible. Saying
the wrong thing can make clients angrier than they were when
they called. One way to prevent that is to avoid using the
words and phrases described below.
The client doesn't care if you're busy. He only cares about
getting his problem fixed. Just let him know how soon you can
fix his problem. If the solution means going to his home, give
him options as to when you can get there and let him choose. If
he asks for an earlier time and there isn't a possibility of
getting there then, make a realistic appointment and tell him
you will call him if you can find a way to get there
Saying no to an irate customer is like pouring gasoline on a
fire. The problem might not seem serious to you, but the
customer is upset so it's an emergency to her. If you can't fix
it right away, she may become even more upset. Find a way to
say no without saying no. Tell the customer what her options
are and let her choose. Let her know that you empathize with
her problem, and reassure her that you will do your best to fix
it as quickly as possible.
The word "can't" is just as upsetting to a stressed-out client
as the word "no." Tell the client what you can do and what he
can expect. "Can" is a positive word and lets him know that you
are doing your best to take care of his problem. You might also
use the approach "If you can do A, we can do B."
For example, if it's Monday and your subcontractor is booked
until Thursday, you might say one of two things to the client:
"Mr. Smith, according to the information I have now, our first
available employee can get to your home on Thursday morning. If
you can give me a number where I can reach you, I'll give you a
call if he can get there sooner." Or, "Mr. Smith, the person
who can fix this is booked till Thursday. But if you can
approve overtime charges, I can get him there this evening. It
might be late, but he'll get there." Either of these two
examples shows that you are empathizing with the client and are
doing your best to help.
Won't or Don't
When a client is upset, she doesn't want to hear negatives.
She wants to hear positive wording about how you will help. The
phrases "we will" and "we do" are much better and let her know
that you are taking care of her.
It's Our Policy
If the client doesn't like what your employee says about your
company's policy, he may tell her to change the policy. Then
she ends up saying, "I can't," which starts a negative cycle of
conversation. Or the client may want to speak with someone who
can change the policy, which could mean interrupting you to get
into a conversation you would much rather avoid.
Help Your Employees Say the Right
One of the best ways to defuse any angry customer is to have a
calm voice on the other end of the telephone. So whoever
answers the phone for you needs to be calm and upbeat, even if
that person has three other lines on hold. Your clients aren't
the only ones who get grouchy. Your office staff can get
grouchy, too, especially when they're already busy and you give
them the added burden of dealing with unhappy customers.
It's important to make sure that everyone who answers the
telephone gets a break in the morning and afternoon as well as
at least 30 minutes away from their desk at lunch. "Away" means
getting away from work. It doesn't matter whether they eat
lunch, read a book, or stare into space.
Do whatever you can to help the employee who answers the phone
maintain a positive frame of mind, because that's the first
person who will talk to your customers when they call with
Ruth Kinghas been coaching contractors for the
last 18 years and is a partner in BuilderChannel.tv and
RemodelerChannel.tv. She works out of Atlanta, Ga., and can be