Building a Positive Jobsite Culture

Some people think that having to “pay your dues,” perhaps by enduring a certain amount of hazing, harassment or unprofessional behavior from co-workers is a necessary part of learning a new job.

That’s an outdated attitude that won’t—and shouldn’t—fly with many workers, particularly those in younger generations, says Michael Hawes, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Carpenters Institute (PNCI) in Portland, Oregon. PCNI has created a two-hour course called Positive Jobsite Culture (PJC) that is working to change mindsets. The course and PNCI’s efforts are highlighted in an article in the October issue of Benefits Magazine.

“We really wanted to see if we could make some serious changes in the culture and on the jobsite to make sure that our apprentices are working in an environment that’s professional. I think we all have this expectation that no matter what our line of work is, we want an environment that’s professional and supportive,” Hawes said. “The reality is if we lose our recruits because of the culture and not necessarily the nature of the work, then that is a very negative thing for us, because every one of them has a story that they take with them out into their communities.”

PNCI trains and mentors 1,400 apprentices who work in Oregon, southwest Washington and Idaho. In addition, the institute runs the continuing education programs serving 5,600 active members of the Pacific Northwest Carpenters Union and 500 union contractors.

PNCI began offering PJC in the first quarter of 2018 and has conducted close to 165 training sessions for more than 4,900 craft workers.

The effort is an important part of ensuring that the trades can find skilled workers to replace the Baby Boomers who are retiring, Hawes explained. It’s also an extension of PNCI’s mission statement and core values which include a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). “We need to do a better job of recruiting and retaining women and people of color across all our trades. A professional jobsite culture that is supportive and inclusive is the key to highly functioning teams and impacts employee retention,” Hawes said.

PJC teaches about unconscious bias and how it can affect relationships with co-workers, shows the impact that bullying and hazing has on workers, and provides tools for how to react to unprofessional conduct. Designed to reach participants on both an intellectual and an emotional level, the course encourages individuals through small group discussions to examine their own behavior and consider how it might affect others.

Through videos and instruction, the course touches on conflict resolution and effective communication. The importance of bystander intervention is discussed—stressing how it’s vital for those who witness or experience bullying to tell someone rather than letting it slide.

Instead of labeling the course as “antiharassment” or “sensitivity” training, PNCI stresses the benefits of making jobsites more productive and safe as well as empowering leaders to build high-functioning teams. That helps to make the training less threatening and more attractive to those who might scoff at the need.

In reality, worksites are more productive and safe if people feel they can do their best work, Hawes said.

One of the contactors that supports PJC is Fred Shearer & Sons, Inc., a Tigard, Oregon-based specialty contractor. The company first offered the PNCI course to employees in 2018 plans to continue offering it every other year.

The emphasis on a positive culture should result in higher productivity, better retention and great success for the business, said John Park, one of the company’s owners. “Ultimately, if our team members are coming to work, and they’re happy and they feel a part of the team, I think the rest will take care of itself.”

Kathy Bergstrom, CEBS
Senior Editor, Publications at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans

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