By Vanessa Salvia
When it comes to applying for a job, at the top of many people’s concerns is the benefits package . . . 401K, vacation days, etc. But Hybrid Home Builders, led by Joey Hughes, takes a different approach.
His approach to hiring and retaining employees is different, from the top down, from interviewing to retaining employees. Instead of a 401K or other retirement savings program, which is standard, they offer a couple of things that employees appreciate even more. Hughes says it has taken years in some cases to develop a scenario that actually works. But after serious number crunching and advice from his attorney and CPA, they figured it out.
“We don’t want our employees to come to work for us,” says Hughes. “We want them to come work with us.”
Interviews with Hybrid Home Builders typically aren’t one-on-one. Instead, they are done in a group setting. Hughes says the people he hires are often new to construction, and he trains them on everything. Because of that, instead of the typical interview process, he asks his potential employees to research ICFs and ICF construction and write a short essay about it.
When employees come to work with Hybrid Home Builders and get a 90-day review, they are offered a contract that states after they accrue the equivalent of five years of work hours, they are guaranteed to get a three-car garage starter home that they own debt-free with no mortgage. The contract is retroactive from the first day they started. “That’s kind of like their bonus at the end of that five-year period,” says Hughes. “There’s no other requirements for it. We have it set up where they can live in it, they can rent it, they can sell it.”
The homes the employees get are homes that Hybrid Home Builders has built in one of the company’s existing subdivisions, which are currently in Eastern Washington outside of Spokane and in Northern Idaho. The idea for this was formed more than seven years ago with Hughes’s former construction company. “We did it for retention purposes because we had a lot of laborers and people that we’d bring in, and on average we were seeing turnover every three to four years and we couldn’t seem to get past that four-year lift,” says Hughes. “We were trying to figure out something that would give them a little bit more incentive to stick around. A lot of those employees are actually coming back to work for us now.”
There is a 5- and 10-year incentive program. No one has reached the 10-year milestone yet because the program is too new. Hughes says he spoke about the program with his attorney and financial advisors, who initially thought he was “completely nuts” until they saw the numbers. “It made more sense for us to invest money into the house program than it did to invest money in a 401K or an IRA, because in those programs, people have to wait until retirement to capitalize on them,” Hughes says. “This was something they could capitalize on almost immediately.”
Hughes says if an employee receives a home on their 5-year milestone, they can also get another one on their 10-year milestone. “If they still want to stay with the company, absolutely they can get another house,” Hughes says. “That’s what our principles are built around . . . longevity and keeping people employed so they can keep adding to their assets.”
Hybrid Home Builders typically runs crews on three to four days in a row on the site. Since they don’t have a lot of overtime, they are currently testing a 4-day work week of 10-hour days. When Hughes was considering this plan, he talked with the managers and crew leaders and evaluated studies that have been done in other countries (Iceland, Sweden, Japan, and others) that had already implemented 4-day work weeks. It’s different than the way our work week is set up in the US, but it works well for many people. “For some people it works out great because they have a 3-day weekend every week but for other people, it doesn’t work with their lifestyle or their personal schedules,” says Hughes. “All of our employees have gotten used to the fact that we don’t work weekends. Their schedules are strictly Monday through Friday from 8 to 5. If we have any overtime it’s optional, not mandatory.” Some crews are on the 4-day work week and others are on a typical Monday through Friday schedule.
Employees Are The Asset
Another change the company has implemented at the request of their employees is going to a weekly payroll period. “We sat down and evaluated the financial impacts of it versus the benefits of it making our employees happier,” he says. “Ultimately everything we do is about treating our employees like they’re an asset. They’re the foundation of the business, not the inventory you have sitting in your warehouse.”
Many companies right now are offering sign-on bonuses, but that is a short-term benefit that doesn’t actually work out to much for the employee in the long run. “Our benefits package is totally different than what anybody else is doing out there,” says Hughes. “We do want to set ourselves apart, but we also want to have bigger goals than just getting people to work for us like a company like Amazon does. There’s a much bigger goal that everybody here is working for.”
When employees understand the benefits package, Hughes says they get “super excited.” In a similar manner to a restaurant worker getting reduced-price meals, or a retailer giving its workers a discount, Hughes says homes are his product, so he wanted to be able to make his product more accessible to his employees. Contractors make good money, most of the time, but the people making the most in large construction companies are the executives and the others at the top. “But the people that actually build and run that company are men and women who are working hard to make it to that level,” Hughes says. “Maybe they struggled to make their payments on rent. They struggled to do typical things. We build houses, we build dreams for other people. And most of the people that work for us have those same dreams of owning a home. And it only makes sense that that’s the product that we provide to our customers. I feel that our employees should have that same benefit.”