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Give Thanks: Expressing Gratitude to Employees

As the year draws to a close, the last two months often become a time for reflection and thankfulness. One thing many lawn and landscape companies are grateful for is their hardworking staff who keep the business running.

Taking the time to express gratitude to employees on a regular basis can be extremely helpful when it comes to retention.

“When people feel that their efforts are valued, they experience greater job satisfaction, have a stronger desire to show up for work every day and give it their all, push themselves to the next level and stay with an organization for the long haul,” says Courtney Pohlit, director of people & recruiting for Ruppert Landscape, based in Laytonsville, Maryland.

Bret Achtenhagen, president of Bret Achtenhagen’s Seasonal Services based in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, says expressing gratitude often is the million little things that make up your company culture versus half a dozen big gestures.

“In the big picture, you really have to define your culture, understand your culture and look at your culture and look at your culture statements, your values and your goals and figure out how does gratitude fit in,” Achtenhagen says. “How people show gratitude is, in my opinion, probably not going to be the same from company to company. Your company has a culture, it has a personality, and your methods of showing gratitude should be consistent with that culture.”

Why Expressing Gratitude Matters

On holidays, CMS Landscape gives out turkeys for Thanksgiving and hams for Christmas.
Photo: CMS Landscape

Brian Mark, owner and president of CMS Landscape, based in Pocasset, Massachusetts, says keeping good employees is the most important and difficult part of the job. Having great employees ensure that clients will follow.

“Each person on our team has an impact on our success or failure on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and beyond basis,” says Shayne Newman, LIC, president of YardScapes Landscape Professionals, based in New Milton, Connecticut. “When we have wins as a team it’s important to recognize those who contributed to our success. As landscapers, we are driven by our love for the outdoors as well as our desire to please our clients. It feels good when we know we have made our clients happy. So, it’s important to recognize that our employees are motivated by knowing that they have made someone happy.” 

Achtenhagen says now more than ever employees value positive feedback and want to be acknowledged for their contributions. Pohlit says like any good relationship, it’s important to let people know that what they do is noticed and valued.

Methods to Thank Employees

As for how landscape companies go about expressing their gratitude, it can come in many different forms.

At Seasonal Services, they make sure the compliments they receive from customers are shared with all the employees and they are posted on a bulletin board in the break room as well. Likewise, YardScapes Landscape Professionals posts client compliments on a weekly basis in an area where all employees can see.
“We also identify in the posting which employees were responsible for the client compliment and make it a point for a manager to personally congratulate the employee(s) who were responsible for the compliment,” Newman says.

Employees who work for Bret Achtenhagen’s Seasonal Services for five years are awarded $500.
Photo: Bret Achtenhagen’s Seasonal Service

Pohlit says at Ruppert, they try to keep a continuous stream of impromptu thank yous, both written and verbal, for many employee accomplishments. The company hosts employee appreciation events, skills and training opportunities and recognizes employee milestones with awards, birthday cards, anniversary coins and letters.  

“We have some of the more formal programs in place so that we don’t lose momentum when we are busy,” Pohlit says. “We like to provide opportunities for people to be together — whether at a branch barbecue, rafting trip, or training event — because it helps create a stronger team bond and enables people to see and feel that what they do is valued by the company and by their teammates.”

For birthdays, Newman says they send employees a handwritten card along with a gift certificate. They also have an employee of the month and employee of the year program to reward employees who go above and beyond. He says many of their methods are driven by ideas they think will make their team members feel they are special.

“Also, if we have a successful year financially then managers are rewarded by a monetary bonus and a personal thank you as a way to thank them for contributing to our success,” Newman says.

Mark says they practice open book coaching to engage their employees and hopefully share in a bonus. He says they also award gift cards for client compliments or in recognition of good deeds.

Seasonal Services does a years of service event every year at their spring kickoff. Achtenhagen recognizes employees who have been with the company for five years by giving them $500.

Photo: Bret Achtenhagen’s Seasonal Services

“They get that every year,” Achtenhagen says. “So in the sixth year, they get $500, the seventh year, the eighth year, the ninth year, and then on the 10th year, they get $1,000 and then they get $1,000 every year until the 15th year and then they get $1,500 and then they get that every year. Yeah, it’s expensive, but it’s a great way of acknowledging their years of service.”

CMS Landscape buys everyone on their crew a turkey for Thanksgiving and a ham for Christmas. They have occasional pizza parties, breakfasts and two employee appreciation days, one in August and one in January. Mark says they hold these events as an opportunity to interact and connect with employees.

“Putting names with faces and letting employees get to know the ownership is very important,” he says. “They deserve it!”

What Means the Most

Because everyone is different, it’s important to know your staff and understand what each individual team member values most.

YardScapes Landscape Professionals does a number of fun outings for each month they have no missed work injuries.
Photo: YardScapes Landscape Professionals

“A simple thank you can go a long way,” Newman says. “It’s important that employees feel like they are contributing to the team in a positive way. That’s really the important part of the big picture.”

Achtenhagen says their employees appreciate the monetary gifts but being recognized in front of their peers also means a lot to them.

“I think the face to face and/or the pats on the back mean more than money, I really do, especially with those under 40,” Achtenhagen says. “I can go compliment people as the president, but really they want their immediate supervisor to deliver the compliments.”

Achtenhagen says while additional money is occasional, the steady observation and acknowledgment of good work means a lot to employees.

“I do believe that for some people on a daily basis being acknowledged for doing well is more important to them than money or benefits,” Achtenhagen says. “But let’s be real, getting a check for $500 or a $1,000, it makes a difference. It’s just a nice way to acknowledge them and we do that in front of the entire organization. I still think monetary rewards have their place.”

“Honestly, I think the personal thank you from an owner goes a long way,” Mark says. “You can see a pep in their step and their shoulders lift as they walk away. The holiday giveaways also seem to hit the heart. I would never diminish the impact of the bonus program though, very powerful.”

Celebrating Employees During COVID-19

One of the main methods of thanking employees, hosting gatherings, has been placed on an indefinite hold lately due to the pandemic.

Photo: YardScapes Landscape Professionals

YardScapes Landscape Professionals traditionally hosts a monthly safety outing for each month they have no missed work injuries. This could be anything from a simple cookout to a trip to Six Flags.

“In the past, this has been a great way to thank employees, bond with each other and get to know each other’s family members,” Newman says. “Obviously COVID-19 has put an end to us being able to safely hold our company outings. In an effort to replace our monthly outings we have tried having managers cooking out for employees as they come back from work on some Fridays. We feel it’s nice for them to have a quick bite to eat before they head home after a week of work. We look forward to once again holding our company outings once we feel we can safely gather in groups.”

Pohlit says COVID-19 has made some of the in-person thank yous a little more challenging, but they’ve done their best to offer in-person socially distanced events and continue to reach out to recognize birthdays and anniversaries. CEO Craig Ruppert also started sending out short video messages to employees providing a sincere thank you and up-to-date information on operations.

“Additionally, in May, we gave bonuses totaling $470,000, along with a note of thanks from the company’s executive team, to our frontline, field-level employees for their continued service and perseverance during this critical time,” Pohlit says. “It was a small way in which we could acknowledge the sacrifices being made by our frontline employees and thank them for showing up and giving their all during these uncertain times.”

Mark says they are working on a plan to recognize their employees at the year’s end, especially those who pushed through the pandemic and chose to continue working with CMS when other options were available.

This article was published in the Nov/Dec issue of the magazine.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the content manager for NALP.

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