Team Building: Exploring the Employee Referral Program - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

We recently updated our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use this website, you acknowledge that our revised Privacy Policy applies.

Team Building: Exploring the Employee Referral Program

If you talk to almost any lawn care or landscape company owner about their successful recruiting methods, nine times out of 10 they’ll mention having an employee referral program.

This method is popular because your employees are more likely to recommend individuals they would want to work with. It also helps boost employee engagement and speed up the hiring process.  

“We’ve just found out that if the employee vets them as opposed to somebody just coming in off the street, they’re more apt to understand our culture right off the bat,” says Greg Struhl, owner of Chip-N-Dale’s Custom Landscaping, Inc, based in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Creating an employee referral program may seem like a no-brainer, but there are a number of aspects to consider and test to find what works best for your operation.

Keys to Success

Asking your employees to simply let their friends and family know that you’re hiring isn’t really going to move the needle. You need to provide an incentive to motivate them to keep an eye out for good company fits.

If you’ve had an employee referral program for a significant amount of time, but there isn’t much interest in it, review your current structure to see where you can change things to be more enticing to your team.

“You have to find what works for you,” says Mark Borst, owner of Borst Landscape & Design, based in Allendale, New Jersey. “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.”

Another consideration is whether to limit your referral program to just your employees. If others in your network are able to send a candidate your way who stays on during the probationary period, sending them a reward as a sign of thanks can keep your business top of mind when they cross paths with other potential employees for your company.

Also, don’t be afraid to fire an employee’s referral if the new hire proves they’re not a good fit. Just because employee referrals are more likely to be a good cultural fit, this does not guarantee this will always be the case.  

Program Options

As mentioned above, offering a reward is key for your referral program to be effective. How much you decide to give out and the frequency of the payouts will vary based on your marketplace and what works for your company.

Landscape America, based in Wrentham, Massachusetts, awards the referring employee $100 in cash the day the new employee starts, $200 if they stay for 30 days and $300 if they reach 90 days. Owner Doug McDuff says the key is to announce it in front of the whole staff and make a big deal out of it.

At Ground Works Land Design, based in Cleveland, Ohio, employees are rewarded $1,000 if they stay a year. Employees at Emerald Lawn Care, Inc., based in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, can also earn up to $1,000 in referral bonuses. They receive $250 the first day the new hire starts, $500 after they stay for six months and another $250 if they stay for a whole year.

Borst cautions against paying referral rewards on the first day as it might encourage employees to bring in just anyone. He prefers to pay the first reward at the one-month mark and the second payout after three months.

“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.”

Mullin, based in St. Rose, Louisiana, changed the timeline of their referral bonuses. Previously, employees would receive $100, $200 and $300 rewards if the new hire stayed on for one month, six months and a year. Now they receive the bonuses at the one-month, three-month and six-month mark.

While most landscape companies opt to offer monetary rewards, don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and offer other incentives like additional PTO days or experiential rewards. Ask your team what they’d most like to receive if you’re truly stumped for ideas.

You also have to decide if you want your referral program to reward the referring employee, the new hire or both individuals. Most companies choose to just award their employees, but Mullin decided to provide bonuses to the new hire as well, if they are a crew leader or supervisor.

“Obviously, those are a little bit harder for us to find and come across,” says Nubia Gutierrez, human resources manager for Mullin. “Having somebody that has experience is very difficult to find and that is able to drive for us and run a crew.”

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.