Team Building: Aspects of a Great Workplace - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Team Building: Aspects of a Great Workplace

Photo: Mullin

Every company wants to provide a great workplace for their employees. Not only is this simply the right thing to do, but it is also easier to retain them. While it might seem daunting to achieve, some of the major aspects that help create a desirable workplace are having a dedicated HR team, providing solid benefits and expressing your appreciation to your staff in a number of ways.

The Value of the HR Department

Having a human resources department may not seem like a top priority when you’re getting your company off the ground but it enables you to have a department dedicated to the implementation of employee benefits and handling other important staff matters.

While HR departments help plan events, it takes the whole team to make a workplace great. Photo: Mullin

Nubia Gutierrez, human resources manager for Mullin based in St. Rose, Louisiana, says having an HR department gives their team members an opportunity to speak to someone who is neutral. She also says that having a designated HR person is key to them being able to carry out their culture-related activities and getting to know the employees’ needs. However, she stresses it takes the entire team to improve your workplace.

“A team is what builds culture,” Gutierrez says. “It’s not one person’s responsibility, it’s everyone’s. Even though I’m the person that’s on the backend doing everything and making it happen, if I didn’t have participants, it wouldn’t work out.”

For Ruppert Landscape, based in Laytonville, Maryland, they have a decentralized structure where the daily operations and day-to-day efforts to make sure employees feel valued are handled at the branch level.

“At a branch level there are activities such as skills and safety training, performance reviews, appreciation events, team building excursions, town hall meetings, thank you notes and community service projects — all of which contribute to a positive workplace atmosphere,” says Phil Key, president of Ruppert Landscape. “Our corporate teams in HR and PR support those efforts with larger company-wide events like our employee picnic and annual awards banquet, our newsletter, anniversary and birthday recognition, and training and development initiatives — all of which are key elements that perpetuate a strong culture and a contribute to a great workplace.”    

Benefits Offered

While offering competitive pay can be challenging, additional benefits can help separate your company from others.

Kingstowne Lawn & Landscape based in Alexandria, Virginia, offers all of their staff an IRA with three percent match, health insurance and a fairly liberal leave policy.  “We’re pretty understanding, I can’t remember the last time someone said, ‘No, you can’t have this day or this week off,’” says founder Krisjan Berzins. “I mean it pretty much never happens.”

Kingstowne Lawn & Landscape has a tremendous amount of tenure.
Photo: Kingstowne Lawn & Landscape

Berzins says when you combine their compensation and benefits with their solid company culture, they end up with a tremendous amount of tenure. Of the 85 employees on staff, Kingstowne has almost 20 people who have been with the company for over 20 years. Another 30 employees have over 15 years with the business.

At Mullin, Gutierrez says everyone from the field to the office is eligible for dental, vision and health insurance with the company paying 50 percent of the insurance. They also offer a 401(k) with employer match. The company also has an onsite gym and a personal trainer who comes twice a week.

“I think sometimes companies tend to not focus on wellness and health,” Gutierrez says. “That has been something that we have been striving to get better at just because we’re outside all the time and it’s hard labor.”

Mullin employees have access to an onsite gym.
Photo: Mullin

Similarly, Ruppert offers medical benefits, paid time off, disability plans and a 401(k). Key says they are constantly reevaluating what investments make sense on this front to help move the needle with employee happiness.

“Additionally, I believe there are many benefits around some of the basic things that just make teams happier,” Key says. “Things like having the right tools and equipment for them to do their job, professional-looking uniforms that they’re proud to put on and comfortable in, trucks and equipment that are clean and in good working order, a schedule that is organized and well thought out, and professional facilities. Often, it’s the little things that are really the basis of employee happiness.”

Rewarding Employees

One main reason people stay with a company is because they feel they are valued for the work that they do. Berzins says gratitude in the workplace is critical and it’s important that everyone feels appreciated and a part of something.

While Kingstowne rewards employees monetarily with commissions for being more productive and gives out Amazon gift cards as thank yous, Berzins says sometimes taking the time to personally acknowledge someone with a job well done can go quite far.

“Just a handshake or a fist bump or a pat on the back kind of thing, it’s very genuine and very organic,” Berzins says. “Literally that 10 seconds can potentially be more powerful than a $50 gift card.”

One of Ruppert’s biggest rewards are growth and development for employees.
Photo: Ruppert Landscape

Mullin has several awards they provide for a job well done, including the Clean Truck Award where the winners are treated to lunch and they are added to the wall of fame. Core Value Superstars are employees who live out the company’s core values. They are given recognition in the morning huddle and receive a cash award. Similarly, office workers receive the Weed Puller award for their commitment to company values.
Aside from their awards banquet and appreciation barbecues, Key says one of their biggest rewards to employees is that of growth and development.

“They’re learning how to be part of a team, developing a strong work ethic, and acquiring organizational and scheduling skills,” Key says. “Becoming more proficient in these areas helps them get promoted, earn more money, and have long-term careers, but it also better prepares them for life and gives them the tools they need to meet their individual goals so that they can have life-long success.”   

Advice for Others

There is no perfect method for creating an ideal workplace and each company is different. Key says for them they built their mission and purpose around the values that are important to them. He says it’s important to reinforce those values within your team and communicate it often.

“This helps to create a strong company culture and it will attract new people to your team that share those values,” Key says. “We always try to remind ourselves that our company is a vehicle for team members to reach their personal and professional goals, so that always has to be in the forefront of every decision.”

Key also stresses the importance of not letting the fun activities be pushed to the bottom of the list.

Make sure to set aside times to have a little fun with your staff. Photo: Ruppert Landscape

“We’ve made a practice of getting out our calendars at the beginning of each year and making a plan for a few fun, team-building activities so that we’re committed to them,” Key says. “But we also take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves throughout the year for impromptu celebrations and thank yous. Life is too short to not have some fun!”

Gutierrez says changing various challenges into games are what has worked for them when it comes to getting the team involved.

“We really strive to do things differently here,” Gutierrez says. “We don’t want to just make it someone’s job. We want to make our workplace something meaningful.”

Berzins says it comes down to respect, humility and gratitude. You can treat your employees with respect by making gestures that show you see them as an equal. Berzins advises owners who have a mostly Spanish-speaking workforce to make the effort to learn Spanish.

“Speaking their language to someone that maybe isn’t that comfortable with English and being able to communicate in their native language effectively is a big part of saying, ‘Hey, we’re on the same level and we’re speaking the same language,’” Berzins says.

Humility is important so you don’t feel threatened by people who are better than you at things.

“I don’t feel threatened by someone on my team that maybe is a better designer than I am, or someone on my team that is better at doing whatever,” Berzins says. “In fact, that’s the people that I’m trying to bring on board. Let them be all-stars at what they do.”

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.