Whistle While You Work

A Connecticut landscape firm's specialty isn't just perfectly manicured lawns – it's keeping employees happy.

Shayne Newman, founder and president of Yard Apes, knows a healthy worker is a happy worker. And of course everyone knows a happy worker makes a good employee. But health has more to do with physical well being; it’s about a mental state as well. And because so much time is spent each day in the workplace – whether that be in an office or out in the field – a mentally healthy work environment is a key factor in peoples’ overall well being.

Fortunately for his employees, Newman knows that, too, and he has created an environment with a comfortable balance of challenges and rewards, making it a very satisfying place to work and keeping morale high even during trying economic times.

To promote a healthy work environment, Newman initiated a variety of award programs and reward systems that push employees to strive for their best, and motivate them along the way.

“Whenever I encounter a problem, I always like to think of ways I can initiate an awards program to solve it,” he says. “I know a lot of people might question why we have to give more money or put in extra effort beyond what we already pay and give, when the employees are just doing their job. But I think it’s keeping them happy and making them better workers, which helps the business grow, too.”

One such program initiated by the New Milford, Conn.-based landscape company is Ape Achievements, through which Newman rewards employees with raises as they pass various modules of the Certified Landscape Technician (CLT) exam. “Instead of forcing our employees to take the exam, this is a way to encourage them, and give them some motivation,” he says. “For every module they pass, they get a 10-cents-per-hour pay raise.”

Other reward programs include an annual Ape of the Year award. At the end of the season, clients and fellow employees vote on the winner, who receives both a large gorilla trophy and a $500 gift certificate. Newman also encourages his employees with smaller, more regular hand-outs like Employee of the Month awards (a $50 gift certificate plus their photo on the wall) and Ape Dinero – which can be cashed in for prizes or put in the Ape Dinero Mailbox for a weekly drawing.

Newman’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by his employees, who come to work happy and motivated, or others who have learned about his company. “After Lawn & Landscape did a story about us, I got contacted by a lot of people who wanted to work here,” says Newman.

That January 2007 cover story also got Newman some very prestigious and unexpected recognition. The programs earned the company two of the Connecticut Psychological Association’s five “Psychologically Healthy Work Place Awards” for 2008. These awards aim to advance the principles of psychologically healthy workplaces by recognizing companies that demonstrate a commitment to workplace health and employee well being.

“Every employee must have certain needs met at the workplace such as safety, health, work/life balance and proper pay,” says Len Wysocki, a Connecticut-based psychologist, and representative of the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program. “And all companies should strive for those goals.”

Wysocki says it’s not only the right thing to do, but a wise business decision, too.

“It’s not just about being a humanitarian, but about improving your business,” he explains. “If an employee feels they are offered a chance for development in the company and a safe and stable place to work where their needs are being met, they are more likely to be both physically and emotionally present at the job – and that makes them better employees.”

The author is a freelance writer based in Royersford, Pa.

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