Like so many other landscape professionals, Mark Borst, owner of Borst Landscape & Design in Allendale, New Jersey, says the labor pool in his area often feels quite dry. It’s an ongoing struggle to find qualified workers. That’s why, about seven years ago, Borst began experimenting with employee referral rewards. Since that time, refining the process helped to learn a lot about what works—and what doesn’t.
“Just asking for referrals really isn’t enough,” Borst admits. “There has to be a reward in order for it to be most effective.”
Employee Referral Rewards Lesson #1: Timing is Critical
Borst says one thing he’s refined quite a bit is the timing of employee referral rewards. While offering an initial reward on the new hire’s first day sounds like a good motivator, Borst says it might also encourage employees to bring “just anybody” in, even if they know they won’t be a good fit for the company. Initially, employees earned rewards after six months. But that didn’t motivate employees because it was too stringent, Borst says.
The sweet spot Borst has landed on is one month, at which point the referring employee receives $250. That is followed by a second pay out of $250 if the new hire completes three full months at the company. The first month gives Borst enough time to know whether this hire is actually a good fit for the company and someone they want to keep around. Paying the second referral reward also helps motivate employees to find workers who they believe will stick around.
“We’ve had people leave after those three months but it’s still a risk I’m willing to take,” Borst says. “I think waiting too much longer than three months to reward the employee takes away a lot of the motivation.”
Employee Referral Rewards Lesson #2: Be Willing to Shake Things Up
When Borst first started using employee referral rewards he was offering a one-time $200 bonus. For a while that was motivating to employees, but he says it sort of fizzled out. He realized he needed to further entice employees.
“The labor pool around here has really dried out. It was obvious I needed to incentivize employees to go out of their way to help us find qualified workers,” Borst says. “The $200 I was originally offering just wasn’t motivating them enough, so I upped the ante. It’s always important to stay on top of programs like these. When they begin to go stale, look for ways to rejuvenate them.”
Of course, Borst also recommends that landscape business owners customize the reward to their marketplaces. For his area, $500 in bonuses is appropriate, but he says that number may be too high—or too low—in other parts of the country.
“You have to find what works for you,” he adds. “You don’t have to come out with your strongest numbers right out of the gate. Start off with a smaller reward, and if it’s something that’s working for you up the ante when need be.”
Employee Referral Rewards Lesson #3: Be Quick to Fire
As they say, it’s always best to be slow to hire, quick to fire. But with a program where employees bring in new hires throughout the year, Borst is willing to try people out. (Borst says he also offers similar bonuses during their snow season.) However, he moves quickly if they don’t fit.
“We might need labor, but it’s still not worth keeping someone on board who’s not a good fit,” Borst says. “That’s why we have that one-month timing in there before we pay a reward fee. We’re gauging whether this employee is a good fit for us. If they’re not, we take swift action.”