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7 min read

Ep. 3: Work/Life Balance: How To Retain Top Construction Talent

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John Carney, a foreman with Harness LLC, and his team are focused on top-quality work and top-quality people. Finding and retaining the best talent is tough right now, but he and the owners of Harness have found fun ways to create work/life balance for their team.  


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episode 3:

work/life balance: how one construction company retains top talent

with john carney


In today's episode, we discuss the strategies they are using to keep employees happy and safe, and to make sure customers are well taken care of. 

Listen to find out what John and his team are doing to retain talent, or read the transcript below (transcript edited for length and clarity).



Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do in the construction industry?


John: My name is John Carney, and I'm a foreman at Harness, LLC. We're a heavy civil contractor. We do a lot of underground work. We’ve also been building pads and utilities, right here in Nashville, on the rock.


How long have you been in the construction industry?


John: I’ve been in the industry for about 15 years. 


How has your personal life changed over the course of time?


has that made any impact on how you think about balancing your time at home versus your time at work?


John: It has, and in fact, you can definitely find yourself being really focused in this industry. But it’s possible that you have your eye on the ball for work, and not have your eye on the ball for your personal life. In this industry with the push, push, push, and every contractor or builder wanting everything done on a strict deadline, a lot of people do struggle with work/life balance. 

You have to stay mindful and set goals to maintain balance. One of the things that has worked for me is reminders, and communication with family and significant others. These are the people who hold you accountable for what you commit to. 


Across the industry, employees are one of the most valuable assets that a construction company has.


Making sure that employees aren't stressed out and are able to keep that balance is important for the health of a team, as well as the productivity. 


John: Absolutely. I've worked for companies before that were operating at the exact opposite end of the spectrum. We were definitely working weekends. We worked long hours. And yes, everybody works long hours, but those companies that want to push you to absolutely work those weekends are what I’m talking about. 

I’ve been at the company I'm with now, Harness, LLC, for almost two years and they definitely believe in that balance. They offer good vacation time, and we like to commit to that. We also like to rotate. If weekend work is mandatory, one of my policies is that I love for my crew to get together and make sure people get rotated in and out. That way they do get a weekend to enjoy, even if we have to push for a deadline.


Have you found that your family and friends understand the ebb and flow of the construction industry’s busy times?


How do they accommodate that? 


John: Right. It's definitely always a learning curve when it comes to understanding the industry’s busy times. Winter time is one of those times when it's wet -- definitely the grading side, we’re still putting a lot of utilities in. But if you're in this line of work, your family knows when it's winter time, because you do get to spend a lot more time around them. 

My family and friends are very understanding and just to have a significant other or family member come up and see you at the job, or come to meet you for lunch, it’s great to know they care and that they're ready to see you when you come home. 


Taking breaks throughout the day is important. It’s a good reset, and important for safety.


Have you noticed ways that your team builds in time to get those quick breaks throughout the day?


John: Safety always comes first. In our daily huddles in the morning, we do a popcorn round where we'll go around and if your name gets called, and it's going to get called, you’ll say one thing that you can do that day to stay safe. 

One of the things we try to teach the younger guys in this industry is every 30, take 30. So every 30 minutes, take 30 seconds to look around and know your surroundings. You'd be very, very surprised to see what goes on at a jobsite. Be aware of your surroundings, so we can all go home at the end of the day. At the end of the day, this is a job. Even though we love it, and it becomes a lifestyle, it is a job. We want to go home to those who care about us.


Does having so many family run businesses in the industry put an additional emphasis on making sure there are family outings or events to see the work that you're doing, or meeting the people you're working with? 


John: Absolutely. Harness is a family. There's a lot of family here, and it’s family run. We enjoy monthly breakfast meetings on Mondays, when we're not on the job. Also, when we're all back at the office or in the shop, we do continuing education. This year we're sponsoring a rodeo where families can come and we'll have a machine there for them to crawl all over. They’ll also get to look at GPS and some of the new GPS guided equipment. Families can come get a look at what we do, and hopefully ignite a spark in the young ones eyes when they get to sit up on a big D6.


Do you have any advice for people that are thinking about careers in construction?


What are some of the great things that you’ve experienced over the past 15 years? 


John: Absolutely. We already spoke about safety, but to talk about that more -- listen to those that have been there before, and that have made mistakes. We're all imperfect and we are going to make a mistake, or two, at times. I'm guilty of this just as much as the next one. It’s about not getting down on yourself and beating yourself up over it. Iron sharpens iron. 

As long as you can stay around the industry, and hang around with the right crowd, you’ll do well.  Find a mentor in the business, brush up on your skills, and stay dedicated. Persistence is one of the main attributes that I believe a young man or woman coming into the industry should really, really focus on.


Do you have any advice for somebody that's already in the construction industry, but is looking to level up and keep moving through the ranks and growing their career? 


John: For me, the big game changer in my construction career was GPS and learning how to look at plans on a computer. That was hard for me for  a long time. Even though I still carry hard plans with me, brushing up on those technical skills is so important. Continuing education is also always great.

It’s also important to build relationships with supply representatives. Link up with your suppliers and bring them in to talk to them about what's new, and what they have to keep you on the cutting edge. There's always a new form of technology out there that can make you just a little bit sharper. If you stop growing, you're going to get passed up.