Retaining HVAC and MEP Employees Requires Satisfying and Purposeful Work

Companies in the building and engineering trades face hiring challenges posed by an aging workforce and shrinking pool of skilled labor. So, it is imperative to hire, train, and retain younger workers to stay competitive. Likewise, ensuring that experienced staff find purpose in their work builds loyalty and encourages then to mentor and develop younger colleagues.

In this post, we look at the importance of purposeful work to HVAC and MEP employees, and what our companies can do to build a culture where our people find meaning in their work.


The Importance of Purposeful Work

Employees who find purpose in their work are more satisfied and work harder for their company. Purpose can come in many forms. Some seek to be the best at a particular skill and value their independence, even if they work within a large organization. For example, mechanical or consulting engineers often feel their work has purpose. Buildings are made safer by well-engineered fire protection systems. Structural engineers make sure that high-rise buildings can withstand high winds and seismic events. Excellence can be sought at any point in a career—whether a young person is studying for their professional engineer license or a mid-career person is doing extra reading or taking classes online to expand their knowledge on a topic.

Likewise, the quest for autonomy, or independence, is understandable. Being able to work independently without stifling bureaucracy or supervisors brings considerable career satisfaction. Guidance and mentors are necessary sometimes, but for many MEP or HVAC employees, working in an environment with room to breathe provides a priceless benefit.

Research on HVAC and MEP Job Satisfaction

Research that was reported in a recent salary survey article from Consulting–Specifying Engineer Magazine provides insight into how we can help employees to find purpose in their work.

For example, when asked “Do you feel your company is ahead of or behind the competition?” 74% responded that they felt they were “ahead” or “just pulling ahead.” Job satisfaction, and the feeling that you’re working for a company with progressive leadership, is important. Technology advances are another area in which survey respondents feel they’re striving to gain mastery. A full 93% indicated that technology is changing the way they work. That said, conquering that technology via education helps building professionals achieve the mastery of a new system or tool. Respondents to the Salary Survey also find different forms of satisfaction in their jobs. When asked how many years left until retirement, 36% indicated they had 9 years or fewer. This is a startling reminder that the workforce is not getting any younger. It’s good to know that 71% of these high-level employees are personally mentoring junior staff members. That bodes well for helping these younger team members gain purpose, mastery, and autonomy.

The Importance of Company Culture

The company’s culture is what determines whether a workplace is friendly and open or a place where everyone minds their own business. It can determine the degree of flexibility in a workday. It’s reflected in whether people would rather hike on the weekends or binge-watch television. If you create a “cool” culture in the working environment, you’re way ahead of the game! You can retain more employees by promoting a supportive company culture. What do candidates look for in a job/where they work?


Company culture can offer strong components of what people look for in a job. Many people want flexibility, for example, in either the hours they work or the flexibility to work part-time. Others look for strong promotional paths. Some people want to socialize with their co-workers and would be relatively unhappy if there isn’t a friendly culture. Don’t neglect salaries and benefits, of course. These need to be competitive, no matter what the culture is. But if the culture is to pay salaries on the high end of the scale or to have an extremely good benefits package, highlighting that will definitely attract candidates. Once you’ve determined the aspects of a company culture that might attract people, publicize those factors in the job description and discuss them in the interview.

Why Strong Company Cultures Matter to HVAC and MEP Candidates

A strong company culture is a way of giving the company a brand. Most companies have a brand for consumers of its products and services. But their employment practices, policies, and culture also create a brand for employees and potential employees. Just as a consumer brand identifies a product by key indicators, like customer service quality or product availability, a company’s brand identifies key indicators of the culture for employees. The identifiability of the brand is important for candidates because it tells them what they can expect in a company. They can then identify whether they are a good fit for the culture, and whether the practices, policies and culture meet their needs.

Great Company Cultures Attract More Job Seekers

Just as a consumer brand can attract consumers to buy a product, a company’s brand for employees can attract prospective candidates to an organization. If the culture is friendly and supportive, that will be very attractive to candidates. If the company usually promotes from within, that can be highly desirable. If they offer flexible time or virtual assignments, candidates may find that appealing. Promote your company’s culture in the job description you post and other areas where candidates will see it. This is how great companies are built and candidates will want to apply because it’s “cool “to work there. It’s widely known that when employees are satisfied with their jobs, they’re much more likely to be happy, more engaged, and more productive. Since successful companies are built by satisfied and motivated employees, it would seem like a no-brainer that organizations would care deeply about employee satisfaction.

How to Start Building a Culture that Supports Purposeful Work

But, building a culture of employee satisfaction is not easy. Surveys show that 70% of US workers dislike their jobs. Whether the problem is an unpleasant boss, difficulties with coworkers, isolation, lack or recognition, or stagnant wages, the result is the same. Employees who are don’t support the company’s mission. That’s a problem that hurts your bottom line.

An article by TINYpulse, specialists in employee satisfaction, explains the problem and what you can do about it.
A Bake Sale _ June 2, 10AM-4PM (2)HVAC and MEP employees are in demand. Does your company culture support their job satisfaction? If you suspect a problem, TINYpulse recommends that you start with a survey. Below, we summarize their approach and share the questions that they recommend. You can adapt these questions to your own needs and use them to ask your employees about their job satisfaction directly in anonymous surveys.

How To Survey Employee Satisfaction Regularly

The questions below can be used to survey your employees quarterly, or even monthly. It is important to conduct surveys on a regular schedule measure your progress. 

Q1: Do you enjoy our company’s culture?

This is the key question, and you might as well ask it right up front. Employee satisfaction almost always relates back to intangible issues like: interpersonal relationships, culture, and work environment. 

Q2: Do you find your work meaningful?

Work is not just a means to a living for most HVAC and MEP staff. Your employees need to find purpose in their jobs.  Purpose may come from satisfaction in acquiring new skills, or contributions to client safety, mentoring younger colleagues, or a variety of other sources. What’s important is that your organization support a variety of ways that employees can find purpose in their work. 

Q3: Does our company offer adequate opportunities for promotions and career development?

Do you develop and promote from within? Even if human resources is working hard to promote internal development, your employees may not recognize the efforts. Take some time to understand the types of advancement opportunities that your employees are looking for.

Q4: Do you feel valued for your contributions?

Most employees need to feel valued to find purpose in their work. Your organization should take time to recognize accomplishments and support contributions that individuals make to corporate success. 

Q5: Does our company give you the tools and technologies you need to do your job well?

Do your HVAC and MEP employees need special tools or software to be effective at their jobs? Your organization doesn’t necessarily need to provide the most expensive and latest of everything, but if you are providing what people need to be effective, then you will be undermining their motivation. 

Q6: Do your superiors communicate company news effectively and in a timely manner?

Nobody likes being left in the dark about major developments. Employees get demoralized when they feel like management doesn’t keep them in the loop. Even if you think you are effectively communicating, you should ask your employees how they perceive the internal communications. 

Q7: Do you feel as though your job responsibilities are clearly defined?

This can be a tough one. You want employees to take initiative and not box them in with overly narrow job descriptions. On the other hand, HVAC and MEP employees need to know what they are accountable for delivering. In general, junior employees need more clearly defined responsibilities than your senior people. The survey will help you determine if you are striking the right balance. 

Q8: Do you think that work is distributed evenly across your team?

Nothing breed resentment faster in an employee than the feeling that they are being treated unfairly. In the MEP and HVAC world, it is not uncommon for workers with specialized skills to shoulder an unfair amount of work. After all, it is always easier for management to assign a task to the most experienced person. But, be careful of overloading individuals. You many need to invest in skills training to ensure that work can be distributed more equitably. 

Q9: Do you feel connected to your coworkers?

Office cultures vary, but most HVAC and MEP employees like to feel that they are part of a community working together on shared goals. To promote connections among coworkers, assign work to teams, rather than individuals, and ensure that there is some time available for socializing during the work week. 

Q10: Do you feel like your job utilizes your skills and abilities as much as it could?

If your survey reveals that employees think their skills are languishing and not being used on the job, you are going to have a problem encouraging these employees to find purpose in their work. While you cannot guarantee that each employee gets to utilize the skills that they personally value (after all, customer needs have to come first), you can let you people know that you are making efforts to put those skills to work. 

Q11: Does management seem invested in the success of the team?

Do your employees feel like management is part of the team? That’s what you want to find out with this question. Your HVAC and MEP employees will value collaborating with management to help customers and the company succeed. 

Q12: Do your managers value your feedback?

Lastly, your employees benefit when management listens to feedback. Even if management cannot act on every piece of feedback, it is important for employees to feel like they have a voice. Start by sharing the results of your survey with all your employees. 

Strive for Continuous Improvement

Don’t be discouraged if your survey results are less positive than you hope. This is the experience at most companies. Remember that, just by doing a survey, you have taken a step toward building a company culture that supports purposeful work. 

Follow up on your survey by implementing changes. The best ways to do this are inclusive. Put together a cross-functional team composed of employees at different levels in the organization. Ask them to develop specific recommendations that can be implemented to address problems identified in the survey. A few months after implementing changes, do another survey. Hopefully, you will see improvement. The idea is to continue to get better overtime getting into the habit of making changes and soliciting feedback. 

With your eye on continuous improvement, your organization will better support purposeful work, attracting and retaining the talent you need to stay competitive.