By now mostly everyone has heard of the term “The Great Resignation”, a phrase which came into our conversations during the COVID-19 pandemic as millions of people left their current places of employment. Whether due to illness, remote work, or childcare issues… many people needed or wanted a change. According to Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index, more than 40% of the global workforce were considering quitting their job in 2021, and NPR is quoting that roughly 33 million Americans did actually quit their jobs from 2020-2021. Are you feeling these effects at your company? We take a deeper look below on how this has played out in the green industry and what, if anything, can be done.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spread through the United States, the Department of Homeland Security listed “essential critical infrastructure workers” as those whose jobs support other life sustaining businesses. Landscape and lawn care companies were on this list due to the work we do maintaining public landscapes such as hospitals, government facilities, housing areas, parks, schools, and more. Thus, those in our industry never stopped working. And pivoting and adjusting wasn’t new to us. Often your planned week is disrupted due to rain, or a project is impacted by the delay of one specific material. And unlike many other industries, the landscaping industry has always taken employee and customer safety very seriously. So, when the Great Resignation began, landscape professionals just did what they are good at…and pivoted again!
Additionally, green industry professionals are always looking for new & improved products and ways to serve their clients and the landscape better. In recent years many companies have been moving towards more automated features in their irrigation and lighting capabilities. And since most meet with their clients outside or over the phone, the green industry business owner was poised to continue their work and to retain their employees during this great shift.
However, one of the most pressing labor issues in the landscape industry even before the pandemic was finding skilled people who are willing to get dirty, be outside, and work with their hands on a project. This didn’t change with the Great Resignation. But what did change is that those with more formal education jobs all went remote while those in skilled labor jobs continued to work in-person. And while the entertainment, food, and hospitality industries saw a decrease in customers and revenue as people stayed home, the landscape industry saw a boom. People were home and wanted to use their outdoor spaces more than ever before. So, it begs the question: How do we continue to re-shuffle to meet these demands?
Below we look at three ways you can focus your efforts.
1: Focus on What You Have
The first solution to any staffing issue is to evaluate the employees you already have and to see how to make the best use of their abilities. Perhaps you have had a hands-on laborer who has shown interest over the years in learning more about the products you carry or the machines you use. Instead of bringing in someone new for a supervisory role, consider investing some time in training this employee who has stuck by you during the pandemic and who you know is happy in the company. Way too often companies focus so much of their energy on finding and keeping customers, when if they would focus even a small portion of that time, money, and energy on the employees they have then those employees will help create a positive workplace culture where you find and retain customers seamlessly.
2: Consider What Is Working and Stick With It
Many companies are in a rush to return to in-person work. However, as mentioned above, the green industry never really left in-person work during the pandemic! But you might have given some office staff the ability to process payments, answer phones, or work on your website from home all while most of your fleet was still out in the field. Now employers are re-shuffling again and looking to bring everyone back into the office. Yet, you might be much better off if you take the time to connect with these loyal office employees and see what THEY need. This can go a long way in retaining them instead of losing them. Perhaps they can’t wait to get back to the office, or perhaps they actually have been more productive remotely. If you work on making these decisions together with the employee, instead of just telling them what is going to happen, they will feel valued during the re-shuffle. Many of them pivoted and kept working not only for their paychecks, but to keep your business going despite everything that may have been going on in their personal lives. Don’t ignore this multi-year sacrifice. Instead lean into it and focus on whether or not it’s been working well based upon two years of proven results.
3: Use the Great Re-Shuffling to Your Advantage
While it is true that many of the people who left their jobs during 2020-2021 won’t return, there are also many skilled workers out there who might just need encouragement to start something new. Consider not just advertising in the usual places that landscaper’s market open job positions. Look to re-shuffle people from other hands-on jobs. Make sure to include in your job posting “willing to train”, in addition to highlighting the perks of working in the landscape business such as: flexible and seasonal hours, learning a trade, feeling of accomplishment seeing a project from start to completion, working on a team, competitive salaries, opportunities for entrepreneurship, etc. In fact, job satisfaction (plus finding meaning and value in a job well done) remains exceptionally high in the skilled trades industry. Capitalize on this and use this to your advantage. Include testimonials from current employees on why they love their jobs and why others would too. Hold a job seekers event where you offer the chance to meet with prospective employees in a different way than the standard “interview” so they can see and feel the excitement around what you do. In addition, many young people in particular are exiting the pandemic unsure of what’s next for them. Expensive college degrees, with life-long lasting debt just to enter a work force that isn’t flexible with work-life balance, or where you feel you are always looking over your shoulder as they fire hundreds of employees overnight, may not be the new norm anymore. Our industry is poised with the ability to re-shuffle the narrative about skilled labor jobs and how appealing they can be.
Rely on Central to help, whether it’s questions about staffing, strategic purchasing, or business planning Central is the right partner for your business. We stay at the leading edge of the industry and we’re ready to help you grow!