Finding and Keeping Employees in a Tough Labor Market

If you’re struggling with finding and keeping employees right now, you aren’t alone. The lawn and landscape industry is facing a significant shortage of qualified workers and it seems that everyone is vying for the same people. In your own local market, you might feel as though the best workers get gobbled up by another company as soon as they become available.

So, how can you be that company—the one that is getting the best people?

Eric Chester, a trusted source in the global dialogue on employee engagement, workplace culture and the emerging generation, says that it’s important for companies to dig deeper and try to understand some of the reasons behind what’s happening in their local market. Chester says, “we all know it’s a terrible situation, but what are the reasons behind it? Why can’t your business, specifically, find and keep great people?”

Chester, whose new book “Fully Staffed” is coming out in April, says there are ways to win this battle.

finding and keeping employees

“We all know there is an unemployment rate of just 3.7 percent right now, which means the good people already have jobs,” Chester adds. “But that doesn’t mean that you’re going to want to just employ people within that 3.7 percent. You still want to find the right people for the job. So, finding the best people is another part of the challenge.”

Chester says there are three areas in particular that need to be addressed when it comes to “surviving and winning the labor shortage battle.” It’s something that he’ll be talking more in depth about at the Workforce Summit.

1. Instill the Work Ethic—and Other Soft Skills

Chester says even if unemployment rose and there was a larger labor pool to choose from, lawn and landscape business owners would still be struggling with finding good hires. That’s because finding the right people is more than a numbers game.

“Just because people are looking for work does not make them qualified to do the work,” he says. “First and foremost, we must instill the work ethic.”

According to Chester, it’s the “soft skills” that really do matter when it comes to long-term job success. These include things like showing up on time, dressing professionally, exhibiting a positive attitude, team work, honesty and integrity.

“So often we don’t train on any of those things—we just expect people to be those things, but that’s not always the case,” Chester says. “We can’t just complain that today’s workers don’t have the soft skills that we want. We have to start talking about and teaching them ourselves; picking up where perhaps parents and teachers may have missed the boat.”

Although most people don’t think about teaching soft skills, Chester says these behaviors or habits can be taught with persistent instruction.

2. Make Your Company the Best Place to Work

The second thing that Chester says lawn and landscape business owners must focus on when trying to attract and retain the best people is how their company stands out from the others. Being the “best place to work” doesn’t mean you have to start topping any national lists. You just need to be the best place to work in your community.

“If you’re not the best landscape business to work for in your area, it doesn’t matter how well you recruit. People are going to leave for that company that’s better,” Chester warns.

So, what does it take to be the best place to work? Compensation is obviously part of it. You want to offer a competitive wage and good benefits. But you can’t just stop there. Chester says there’s a lot more to it.

He suggests pondering the type of atmosphere that your company has. Is it a positive place to be where people actually like coming to work?

But going even further, he says landscape pros should consider whether they encourage fun in the workplace. When you do, people build relationships and become closer—and that goes a long way in retention.

“Do people who work with you all get along so well that they go out and have a beer together when the work day is over?” Chester asks. “Or, if there was a rain day, would you ever tell everyone: ‘We’re headed down to the bowling alley?’ Those types of things matter to people.”

Beyond a positive culture, Chester says providing growth opportunities is also critical. While a lot of lawn and landscape business owners spend time thinking about growing their companies, they don’t always think about growing their people.

“If you aren’t trying to help your people become more than they are—and that’s something that they want—they are going to leave,” Chester says. “You can’t just hire people and leave them to stay in their roles forever. Your business will become stagnant and good people will leave. They want to do more. They want growth opportunities and if you aren’t providing them, they’ll find them somewhere else.”

3. Become a Relentless Recruiter

Finally, Chester says the third step to take is to become a relentless recruiter.

“Recruiting is not just HR’s job,” he says. “You need everyone in your company to be doing it. But you need to teach them how.”

For instance, if someone were to approach one of your lawn care technicians while they were in the field and ask them about working for you—what would they say? You want your people to be talking about your company and sharing why it’s such a great place to work. But they need to know what to say and how to say it.

“In order to be successful with this, you need to reward employees who do it successfully,” Chester says. “If they tell someone how great it is to work for you—and then they actually come to work for you—they should be rewarded for that. It will inspire others in the company to follow suit.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The landscape industry is experiencing a workforce crisis. No amount of action from any individual company will solve this problem. It is time for industry professionals to work together to identify solutions to this crippling challenge. Attend the Workforce Summit, March 1-3 in Alexandria, Virginia to learn more.

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