Tackling the high cost of high turnover

by inPAINT
Retention strategies that build your business—and morale

Losing employees at any skill level takes a toll on a business. With the hard costs associated with rehiring ranging from 16% to 20% of annual salary for low- and mid-level wage earners and a whopping 200+% for senior staff—plus the less-tangible soft costs including loss of expertise, missed deadlines, and reduced morale—the incentive to keep good people on board is high.


According to Steve Ball, a partner at Gross Mendelsohn, an accounting advisory firm with deep roots in the construction industry, “The talent war in all the trades has really ramped up in the past 4–5 years. There’s been a definite uptick in poaching. But what’s different today is that what’s luring people away isn’t just a paycheck. Don’t get me wrong. You still need that. But you also need to offer a culture and a company that people want to be a part of.”

Jason Hayes of iHire, LLC, couldn’t agree more.

The VP of customer success and employer sales at the online recruitment platform says, “It’s all about employee engagement. People want to feel a greater purpose to their work. They want to feel a connection to their colleagues and employer and they want to do the best job they can every day.”

Among the things Hayes cites as critical to a successful culture are: 

  • Mentorship opportunities: “This is a win-win. The tenured employee wins by being entrusted and empowered to help the new hire, and the new hire has an immediate go-to connection in the organization.”
  • Feedback mechanisms: “Annual reviews are no longer enough. You need to communicate on every job—especially early on. Plus, you want to give employees some say in how work gets done. If they’re part of creating the plan, they’ll own the work more and feel more vested and connected.”
  • Flexibility: “This one’s a little tougher in the paint industry but when you can let someone leave a little early for a school play or to help a family member, this has a tremendous impact on engagement.”


Nick Slavik of Nick Slavik Painting & Restoration Co. is one business owner who has put ‘flexibility’ to the test.

“I recently adjusted our crew schedule to a four-day, 10-hour-per-day model, which gives everyone—except for myself and our client concierge—Fridays off,” says Slavik. “The quarter I made the change was the most profitable quarter I’ve ever had. Productivity is up and I’m providing the work-life balance my craftspeople want.”

Nigel Costolloe of Catchlight Painting also aims to provide a desirable work-life balance. Catchlight pays for paternity, maternity and bereavement leave—they have also paid for a ticket home to Brazil for a newer painter so he could say goodbye to a sister with terminal cancer.

While Costolloe is happy to support his team in this manner, he notes that it’s important to remind them of the benefits of being on the Catchlight team. “Most painters think short term. It is our responsibility as owners to remind and inform them that we offer more than a paycheck.”

This became abundantly clear to Costolloe when a seasoned lead painter was tempted by a $3/hour raise at another company.

“We reminded him of all the ways we had been there for him beyond the weekly paycheck.” That included the keys to a company van (valued at $2,000 per year), paid paternity leave (taken three times in 10 years), a $5K loan for hearing aids at 0% interest, and the company copay for family health insurance valued at $80,00 per year.

Needless to say, the painter stayed. And Costolloe now makes it a point to articulate the value of stability, respect, and the potential for advancement at the monthly company meetings.


Hayes advises businesses to “hold your culture strongly.” Citing a 2015 paper titled Toxic Workers by Harvard Business School, he notes one of the main reasons people leave is a bad apple. “Be they a bully, a know-it-all, a slacker or just a negative Nancy, bad apples create unnecessary stress and cut into productivity. Letting toxic people go, no matter what level they’re operating at, will yield a bump in productivity and send a message that you’re willing to do what’s necessary to protect your culture and make it possible for others to thrive.”

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