The U.S. is seeing about 10,000 baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) retire per day. That means every day we lose knowledge from our industry due to retirements. The fact that so much of the construction industry is experience- or knowledge-based work makes this fact especially sobering, but the challenges don’t end there.

Not only is our industry’s knowledge basin shrinking, but the knowledge needed to be an effective professional in our industry continues to become more and more specialized. The growth of plumbing over the last decade is a great example of this shift — the sheer number of deaths and lawsuits due to dental gas and legionella outbreaks alone are anecdotal evidence that our industry is becoming increasingly complex.

Ironically, the need for specialization in our economy (which can also be extrapolated to apply to our industry) was well documented almost 50 years ago by the founder of modern management, Peter Drucker, in his book “On Management.”

In his writing, Drucker indicates that a “knowledge-based economy (that is an economy which is directly based on production, distribution and use of knowledge and information) requires knowledge-based workers… and that knowledge work is effective if only it is highly specialized (e.g., what makes a brain surgeon effective is that he is highly specialized in brain surgery, but by the same token could not repair a damaged knee, and would probably be helpless if confronted with a tropical parasite in the blood). This is true for all knowledge work. Generalists…are of limited use in a knowledge economy. In fact, they are productive only if they themselves become specialists in managing knowledge and knowledge workers.

“The knowledge needed in any activity has become highly specialized. It is therefore increasingly expensive and difficult to maintain enough critical mass for every major task in an enterprise. And because knowledge rapidly deteriorates unless it is used constantly, maintaining within an organization an activity that is used only intermittently guarantees incompetence.”

Both within the industry and as a society we are losing knowledge at a time when we need knowledge more than ever. There are several challenges facing our industry with the fight over limited resources. Identifying, courting and hiring the right people are certainly some of the biggest challenges. Another is making sure you retain the right employees in your organization.

So why do employees leave? What makes them stay? The top reasons can be summarized by a simple acronym that recruiters often use: CLAMPS. 

C: Challenge of the job

L: Location of the office

A: Advancement/growth at the company

M: Money/benefits (including “perks”)

P: People (coworkers/boss)

S: Stability or job security

Almost all job changes initiated by employees fall under one of these headings. But which of these factors is the biggest reason for retention failure?

There are some interesting trends from statistics on why employees quit (italicized emphasis mine).


Challenge of the job

“70% of the respondents indicated that job-related training and development opportunities influenced their decision to stay at their job,” according to


Office location

“37% of employees would quit and take a new job that allowed them to work remotely part of the time,” according to a Gallup poll. Employees with a 45-minute commute time were almost twice as likely to be actively disengaged as employees with a less than 15-minute commute time.



Over 70% of ‘high-retention-risk’ employees want to leave because they see no future advancement in the current job,” according to a article.



“Only 12% of employees actually leave their job because they want more money,” according to a article.

About half of employees would change jobs to have health insurance, paid vacation, dental/vision/life insurance, sick days, and/or a retirement plan/401k with employer match, according to Gallup.

“20-29% of employees say they would change jobs” for [wellness programs, reimbursement of fees to attend professional conferences, professional development programs…and company perks such as discounts and paid membership],” according to Gallup.



“92% of employees said they would be more likely to stay with their job, if their bosses would show more empathy,” according to the article on “And 76% of employees who don’t feel valued at work are seeking other job opportunities.”

“Three in 10 U.S. employees strongly agreed that their associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work. By moving that ratio to 6 in 10 employees, organizations could realize a 29% reduction in turnover and absenteeism,” according to the Gallup poll. “Slightly more than half of employees (51%) rate greater stability and job security as ‘very important’ in a new role.”


One-on-one meetings

In the statistics above, it’s worth noting that things with the greatest impact (70% or greater) on engagement and retention were not what most people might expect. Statistics consistently show that money, benefits, perks (such as wellness programs), and even culture, are all mid-level concerns when compared to how their supervisor/manager treat, train, coach and ultimately lead them. Survey after survey appears to indicate that having a good relationship with their boss and improving their skills were the top two concerns for most employees.

So how does a manager develop a better relationship with their subordinate to increase engagement and retain the best employees? What system allows a supervisor to train and coach their employees to the point they feel that they are growing and valued?

After studying these topics incessantly for almost a decade, I’ve concluded that the answer is simple, but it takes hard work and dedication: half-hour, weekly or biweekly one-on-one meetings with each employee.

I first heard about this approach about 10 years ago in the “Manager Tools,” podcast series, and it has stayed with me since then. I remember thinking then how impactful this approach would be with me, if a manager would commit to meeting with me once a week or every other week. After almost 10 years’ worth of conversations on this subject with colleagues, I have yet to find a person that would not want to have a professional, working relationship with a manager/supervisor, and that this connection would certainly make them think twice about switching companies.

If more companies can foster meaningful relationships between managers and their employees, it will give them an advantage in our knowledge-based economy that emphasizes retaining the best (and hard-to-find-specialized) talent. Based on all the data I have seen, my convictions have been further strengthened that one-on-ones are the best way to develop a professional relationship, improve effectiveness/productivity and, most importantly,  make people feel valued — more on that topic in my next column.