Team Building: How Landscape Companies Focus on Employee Mental Health - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Team Building: How Landscape Companies Focus on Employee Mental Health

Photo: LandCare

Employers are responsible for providing safe and healthy working conditions for their employees; this doesn’t stop at mental health.

“That’s a big disconnect with employers is ‘Well, they can deal with that outside of work hours,’” says Loriena Harrington, LIC, owner of Beautiful Blooms LLC, based in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. “No, they really can’t. It’s their being; it’s who they are. It’s a part of them.”

Several landscape companies share how they have worked to normalize conversations about mental health, how they support their team members every day, and their tips for others.

Supporting Mental Wellness

Local Roots Landscaping, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, makes a point to create a pleasant work environment for their employees. Patrick Murray, managing partner of Local Roots, acknowledges that people spend a large component of their life at work. They ensure everything from their infrastructure to their atmosphere has the team’s well-being in mind.

He says that while you can’t force a friendly environment, they are very intentional about it. He wants to make sure his team is aware they are appreciated and loved.

“That might be their one touch point that they get to hear that they’re appreciated, that people respect them because they’re craftsmen and they should be appreciated for their work,” Murray says. “They may never get to hear that when they go home.”

Photo: Beautiful Blooms, LLC

They host monthly happy hours at their shop where everyone is welcome and they have appetizers, drinks and play some games. He says it’s a good way to encourage one another and enjoy each other’s company. They tend to have 85 to 90 percent turnout for these gatherings.

Murray also sends out a weekly wellness survey to his office staff to see how they’re doing mentally, if stress from work has affected their personal life, and if there’s any way the owners can help.

“Another question would be, ‘Is there any reason you would quit right now?’” Murray says. “It really helps them to open up to just share things they wouldn’t normally share, but we’re asking them point blank. We’ve gotten some really cool feedback and caught some really negative stuff like that.”    

Murray says the reason they send the survey only to office staff is because the field staff already has multiple avenues to give feedback on a daily basis. Meanwhile, the office and management staff can sometimes feel like they’re on an island due to the behind-the-scenes nature of the job, dealing with customer complaints and more.

Harrington says they keep in mind that all of their team members are individuals who have a life outside of work and that life will have an impact on how they do their work. They could be facing the chronic illness of a family member, the challenges of being a single parent, or a temporary need that requires them to take off work early.

“When we see a difference in their work, we will reach out to them and see what might be going on,” Harrington says. “We welcome and engage in that and start that conversation. We’re also very reasonable with understanding whatever is happening outside of work.”

Harrington says working in the landscape industry can feel like a demanding seven-days-a-week job working from sunup to sundown, but at Beautiful Blooms, they work five days a week with reasonable hours. If there is seasonal demand, they may occasionally work on a Saturday.

They also have weekly meetings with the entire company and team members are encouraged to share what’s going on. No one is forced to open up, but it’s an opportunity to build relationships. Harrington says sometimes it could be something as simple as someone coming off a fun and exciting weekend and they want to share that.

Amber Burkett, benefits manager for LandCare, based in Frederick, Maryland, says they strive to create an environment where their employees feel comfortable discussing any mental health concerns or if they’re feeling overwhelmed. All three companies also provide access to their company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP).  

“We have had our EAP in place for several years, and we make a conscious effort to ensure that all our employees are aware of this resource through regular communication and promotion,” Burkett says. “We understand the importance of confidentiality in seeking mental health support, so we emphasize the privacy and personalized nature of the EAP services. As a result, we have seen a positive response from our employees, and many have taken advantage of this resource to address their mental health concerns and challenges.”

Tips for Success

Creating an open forum in the workplace can also help with issues like burnout or an employee’s change in performance. In the case of an employee who is overwhelmed, Harrington says they will make changes.

“If we don’t make changes, the person will either become so overwhelmed that it becomes a chronic, severe issue and they’re not able to perform their function at work at all,” Harrington says. “Or they’ll leave.”

Sometimes those adjustments reveal a hidden opportunity where taking that extra responsibility and delegating it to another person reveals the new person is a rockstar at that task. In the instance of an employee’s recent poor performance, Harrington will reach out to the employee and see if anything is going on.

“Say, ‘John, I know that you’re capable in the past; you’ve always shown us great results,’” Harrington says. “‘But recently, it seems like there might be something on your mind. Can you tell me a little bit about that?’”

She says approaching it this way is much better than reprimanding or firing an employee whose performance suddenly takes a downward turn. Harrington says, at the minimum, she’s alienated an employee. At the worst, she’s fired an employee or made them quit, and now she has to find and train someone new.  

“I could have just been human and interacted with the person and asked them a couple of questions,” Harrington says. “Perhaps that’s all it takes. Because them being able to voice what’s happening, sometimes just gives them the power they need to take control of the situation.”

Murray advises slowing down and taking things in.

“I think it’s so easy in any business, especially whenever we’re in a seasonal business, to just be go, go, go all the time,” Murray says. “And then just neglect things that are front and center that you can easily see if you just take a second to know your people.”

Photo: Local Roots Landscaping

Encouraging open and honest communication can sometimes result in employees oversharing at times. Burkett advises managers to listen empathically and ensure they set healthy boundaries while still supporting their employees.

“We also emphasize the importance of privacy and confidentiality when seeking mental health support through our EAP services,” Burkett says. “Ultimately, we attempt to create a culture where our employees feel comfortable seeking support and resources for their mental health needs while still respecting the boundaries of others.”

Harrington encourages company owners looking to improve their employee mental health efforts to start with themselves first. She admits she hadn’t always taken care of herself mentally, dealing with burnout, overwhelming feelings and anxiety. Dealing with them gives her first-hand experience with those challenging times.

“From that learning comes experience that I can then share and help others approaching each situation,” Harrington says. “I approach each situation with the reminder to myself that everybody has a story.”

She also advises training your management team on emotional intelligence so they can gain understanding and tools.

“Be open to feedback from your employees about what is working and what could be improved when it comes to mental health support,” Burkett says. “This can help you continually refine and improve your efforts in this area. Supporting your employees’ mental health is not only the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense. We have seen that when our employees feel supported and valued, they are happier, more productive, and more engaged in their work.”

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.