ASK THE EXPERTS is presented in partnership with PLANET’s Trailblazers On Call program. Trailblazers are industry leaders who volunteer their time and expertise to give back to the industry.
Q. How do other lawn care/landscaping companies handle how their crews take lunches? Do they pay them for the time when they eat? I am assuming they do not, but then, how do you track how long they are actually taking?
Following are responses from four PLANET Trailblazers:
A. Check with your state as to what is/is not legal. It really doesn’t matter what other landscape companies are doing. They may or may not be doing things correctly.
We require our people to bring their lunch with them. The truck and trailers are not permitted to leave the work sites, so we never have a problem with employees going to a gas station or a restaurant. We are required by state law to give two 15-minute breaks and one 30-minute lunch, all on unpaid time. We elect to only deduct a 30-minute lunch each day from their time, thus paying them for their two 15-minute breaks. We have not experienced any pushback on this, but we have taken the time to explain this fact to our workers so they understand we are going above what we are required by law to do, and we are doing so to their benefit.
Kyle M. Webb, Landscape Industry Certified Manager, A to Z Lawn & Landscaping
A. We automatically deduct 30 minutes per day for all full-time employees for a lunch break, whether they take less or more time than that. Truth be told, I have more problems with our field employees not taking the time to have a lunch compared to problems with them taking too long of a lunch break.
We also encourage our guys to stop, wash their hands and take the time to eat a good lunch. Since we are working with pesticides, it’s important to wash hands before eating, rather than just scarfing down a sandwich while driving between stops. And, in Oklahoma, it gets pretty hot in the summer, so we encourage our guys to go inside, drink plenty of fluids and cool off.
Sure, they may take a longer lunch sometimes, but with our system, it’s not abused. They also have strong production, sales, and quality goals, so if they are consistently taking too long for lunch, they’ll not hit their goals. Not hitting their goals will then affect their pocketbook. I think it boils down to hiring great, honest people and trusting them to do what’s right – for them and for the company.
So, give them a reason to only take 30 minutes for lunch and be productive, and you may end up having to encourage them to take that 30-minute lunch break.
Brad Johnson, Landscape Industry Certified Manager and Technician, LawnAmerica
A. We give our crews an unpaid, 30-minute lunch. There is no drive time factored into this number. We constructed a “bragging board” on which each crew posts its daily bidded man hours each morning. Upon the day’s completion, they post the actual time it took to complete the work. This is tallied by day and crew and is a great instrument in keeping the crews goal oriented.
One of their top performance deliverables is completing all jobs within budget. The bidded vs. actual numbers from the bragging board get emphasized in weekly coaching sessions with their direct report. Great numbers earns accolades, more money, and continued employment. The culture that has been created inspires staff to work within the system. Finally, if they run good numbers and want to take a long lunch occasionally, then great, why not? That is a perk of the job.
Maurice Dowell, Landscape Industry Certified Manager, Dowco Enterprises
A. Regarding lunch hours, it’s my opinion that the best thing to do is to give your crews specific hours each day to do your work. We used to have large schedule boards where, at the end of each day, the foreman would come record the daily hours. Everyone could see if they were under, on time or over each day and each week. There was incredible peer pressure to stay on budget. If, at the end of the week, they were over on hours, they had to record the number in red. Then, we would take all the crews that were on or under budget and put them in our in-house lottery. On Monday morning, we had a drawing, and the winning crew received a cash reward. This was always a modest amount – back then, more than 10 years ago – $5 a piece on the crew.
For about $20 we pretty much kept all the crews on budget. We were running around $1 million in work in this branch. In this way, I’m not really that concerned if they take 30-minute or 45-minute lunches because as long as they are on budget that’s what counts.
Another suggestion would be to have an efficiency meeting every week. Review your crews’ budgeted hours with their actual. Keep this a positive meeting; no finger pointing. If a crew is under budget, give them the “attaboy,” if they go over, just ask, “Why?” Put the pressure on them. They won’t like trying to explain the why in front of their group of peers? I have had clients increase their productivity 5-15 percent and more by using these methods.
Ed Laflamme, Landscape Industry Certified Manager, The Harvest Group
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