Throughout my time in the industry, I’ve seen (and heard) everything regarding the workplace environment. I grew up as a roofer and roofing contractor. As a kid, I was always in the shop, visiting job sites and learning about construction. When I was old enough, I graduated from working in the warehouse and doing deliveries to working on the roof. It was a great experience — from learning the skills of the trade to the value of hard work and understanding what union members experience every day. It was also Darwinian and brutal. We had many exceptional tradesmen — but every weakness was played with, every insecurity pushed, and casual harassment was the norm. I bet this sounds familiar because it was the hazing many of you grew up in. We valued workers who could survive on the crew — hard workers with thick skin and the ability to fire back in kind.
What I just described was the “good work environment” we thought was normal in 1990. You earned your stripes by contributing to the crew and carving out your place in the pecking order. It was also simply a toxic environment, especially when measured by today’s standards. Knowing what I know today and how laws have changed over time, the legal risk of that conduct is very high. Even worse, how many people who tried to be roofers washed out because they couldn’t cut it or deal with the teasing and bullying? With recruitment and workforce needs being the top concerns expressed by SMACNA members, how can we continue to risk our ability to not only attract top talent but retain the skilled workers that you already have? We need to reflect on what a respectful workplace looks like.
What would be the core tenets of a respectful workplace? For me, such an environment would be one where people are kind and professional toward one another, one that values diversity, one where teammates trust each other and one where bullying and harassment are not tolerated. Our trade workers should earn their place on the job site through hard work and their skills — not their ability to tolerate hazing.
There are some tangible benefits to your business for creating this type of atmosphere: higher employee satisfaction; your workforce is engaged with your firm’s mission; morale remains high; and harmful activities such as safety incidents, sick time and turnover significantly drop. All these things can contribute to your company’s higher bottom line and prosperity.
BE4ALL, the joint effort by SMACNA, SMART and ITI to create an industry-wide atmosphere of belonging, has designed its latest Toolbox Talk on this topic. Please take a moment on your shop floor to review and discuss the issues outlined in this edition. It will help you understand some behaviors that do not contribute to a respectful workplace and learn more about some of the best practices that can enable you to build a thriving workplace where everyone is valued and welcomed. This can also spur discussion on what can be done at your shop to encourage this environment.
Thank you for everything you do in building a thriving sheet metal industry.
Aaron Hilger is CEO of SMACNA, bringing more than two decades of executive association leadership to this role. Hilger is focused on building a stronger, more competitive environment for all SMACNA contractors.