3 Ways to Improve Employee Onboarding for Better Retention

In the past three years, NALP member Ben Carruthers, owner of Carruthers Landscape Management Inc., in Dallas, says the company has become more “HR-focused” than ever before. He’s been working with Human Resources “Harvester” Steve Cesare, of The Harvest Group, on a number of ways in which the company can improve their employee onboarding process—among other changes—to assist with retention.

Ben Carruthers talks about employee onboarding at Carruthers Landscape Management.

Carruthers says “keeping crew members motivated for 52 weeks a year” is no simple task in the Dallas market, where landscape contractors are busy year-round. Of course, the labor shortage doesn’t help matters either. That’s why Carruthers says they hope improving onboarding and implementing several retention strategies will pay off.

Here are three things that Carruthers has found helpful.

Employee Onboarding and Retention Tip #1: Use the Buddy System

In the past, when a new team member would get hired, Carruthers says it wasn’t uncommon to just push them right into the mix with little to no onboarding at all. In a busy industry and a regional market that doesn’t have any definitive “off season,” Carruthers admits it wasn’t uncommon to send new hires right out on the job and get around to introducing them (and providing training) later. But he’s learned that is a mistake when it comes to retention.

“Now, when we get a new hire, we assign them a buddy—another crew member who can show them around and introduce them to people,” Carruthers says. “It’s made a really big difference. Crew members go from not knowing anyone to automatically having one familiar face—so they don’t feel as though they’re totally on their own. We’ve also found this helps everyone get to know each other much faster.”

In addition to using the buddy system and matching new employees with existing ones, the onboarding process includes more training.

“The time just has to be made to do it,” Carruthers says. “It’s really not something that should be put on hold like we were once doing.”

Employee Onboarding and Retention Tip #2: Encourage Camaraderie

Getting everyone together is another new effort that’s having an impact. At least once a month, Carruthers plans a team get-together where employees stick around after work for a quick meal and some socialization. Sometimes they’re cooking up their own food and sometimes they’re ordering in. No matter which, Carruthers says it’s been really helpful in building team camaraderie.

“The different crews often don’t get to see one another, so making a point to share these meals together has been great,” Carruthers says. “We eat and socialize a little bit, but we also make sure it doesn’t go too long. We recognize that crews also want to get home to their families.”

Employee Onboarding and Retention Tip #3: Keep Evolving

The most important lesson Carruthers has learned with these efforts is that the company must always evolve. There is no room for complacency when the industry is hurting for hires. That’s why he says he will continue to come up with new ideas and analyze what works—and what doesn’t—going forward.

“You have to constantly be thinking about how to get more employees interested in your business and how to keep them happy once they’re here,” he adds. “The workforce has changed, and we have to adapt to that fact or we won’t survive. While workers once had to impress us, the tides have shifted—we have to impress them now. But I don’t think we should think of it as such a bad thing. Landscape laborers work very hard and they deserve to work for a company that values them. I think it’s actually a good turn that our industry has taken, as long as we’re adapting to it.”

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