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. I am reaching out to see how others in this industry keep employee morale high. We have recently experienced a high rate of turnover in employees, especially those with drivers’ licenses. Does anyone have any good ideas or ways to keep these employees?
A. Before you check the morale at your company, make sure you are doing a thorough job of explaining the work details during the hiring process.
If employees are only lasting one to two weeks, it may very well be that they simply didn’t know what they were getting in to.
Be honest about the heat, cold, hard work and heavy loads.
Too many people get a job in our industry because they “like to be outside” or want to “get paid to get a tan.”
Weed these people out before you hand them a uniform.
Two, company morale, especially in a small business, always starts and ends with the owner/CEO.
Have you had an assessment done of your leadership strengths and weaknesses or considered doing a blind survey of your team?
Getting a consultant in to assess the culture of my company really shined a light on some areas I was missing.
Three, I have found the real experts on why short-term employees quit are my long-term employees. Constant turnover makes their jobs harder, too.
Take them to lunch and ask the hard questions. Why do people keep quitting my company? Is it me, is it our hiring criteria, or is it our pay/benefits? Explain that you are deeply committed to making changes that make it a better place to work for everyone.
Terry Delany, GroundSERV
A. I would start by looking at your company. Is it someplace where people want to work? Is there a good culture of quality, integrity, etc.?
What brings people to you for a job? What is your interview process like?
Perhaps you need to concentrate on the interview more in finding out if the employee is a good fit and will add something to your company.
Morale goes deeper than just getting and keeping employees.
They need to believe in what you are doing and need to feel like they are making a difference.
Maybe to attract better people you have to evaluate how you stack up to other companies.
What is your reputation? Ask your customers. Ask your employees.
Do you ask the employees why they leave? I would suggest you look at the big picture.
Morale might not be the real issue? It may just be the end result?
Joe Markell, Sunrise Landscape & Design
Q. Is there a landscape industry standard for applying fuel surcharges? We instituted a 4 percent fuel surcharge on all monthly lawn care invoices which has generated a lot of inquiries. We want to update our lawn maintenance contract so that it reflects industry-acceptable fuel surcharge verbiage.
A. I don’t think there is any such thing as “acceptable” when it comes to a fuel surcharge.
I have seen surcharges implemented based on rack rate, station averages, city averages and the price of a barrel of crude oil.
It is a hot potato topic that is sure to generate more questions and drive up your management time when people call in angry or choose not to pay it, and you are left calling them for a $1.75 charge that didn’t get paid on the invoice.
Tacking on a fuel surcharge, even with clear, concise language, is a public relations disaster.
That said, there are ways to offset fuel costs, and it is best done through fuel surcharges on enhancements or design/build.
As these proposals are job costed, you can increase your mobilization fees on these jobs much easier and can bury those fees in other areas.
It is a way to arrive at the same destination without the incendiary line item on a maintenance contract.
Bill Leidecker, president, Five Seasons Landscape Management
A. We have chosen not to implement any fuel surcharges on our maintenance contracts.
The market is very fragile, and we don’t wish to give the client any reason to question an invoice. With that said, we have seen fuel costs rise a full percent as a cost of sales in 2011.
We will consider increasing our price when renegotiating the contract.
There is an online fuel index, FuelSurchargeIndex.org, that can be used to measure fuel price fluctuations.
Bruce T. Moore Sr., Eastern Land Management
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