Keep your Millennials

Young professionals get candid about what really makes a good working environment for the newest generation in the workforce.

As Millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers all learn how to work together, it’s key to understand how company culture is changing. At a panel discussion at LANDSCAPES in Louisville, Kentucky, on Friday, three members of the National Association of Landscape Professionals Young Professionals group discussed what they look for in a workplace.

Open communication.

Being able to have an open and honest conversation is key to younger employees. “Younger people want to be heard; they want guidance and they want career paths,” said Peter Kehoe, vice president of operations at The LaurelRock Company.

He said he has no qualms about saying anything ­– good or bad – to his superiors. “When people get defensive, it shuts the younger generation up and that’s when you’re going to see dissonance between the owner and the employees,” he said.

Kehoe does weekly coaching sessions with his guys to talk about where they’re going – not the day to day stuff. It’s more of going over performance deliverables, seeing if they’re on track to get where they want to be.

Mariani Landscape also has coaching sessions, or employees will go out to lunch to talk about development. The company does reviews as well, setting goals and checking in periodically throughout the year, but there’s also a very open-door policy.

“It’s nice to be able to have that constant availability to get in touch with my superiors,” said Lucas Melograno, production coordinator at Mariani Landscape.

Miles Kuperus, account manager at Wray Brothers Landscapes, said his company uses a software that allows employees to text each other and share documents, which has made it much easier to send notes back and forth quickly.

A thriving company culture.

When The LaurelRock Company started losing some younger account representatives it realized it had a culture problem. Kehoe said the older employers saw it as just a 9-to-5 job where they would clock in, clock out, collect a paycheck and look forward to a bonus at the end of the year.

But then, the company started hiring younger employees who were interested in more than money. “It wasn’t how to get a bigger paycheck; it was time and quality of life that mattered to them," Kehoe said.

They now have a mandatory happy hour at 4 p.m. one Thursday a month right in the office. “It forces all of us to get in the same room, share a couple of drinks and talk about what’s going on,” Kehoe said. “It’s just a one-hour decompress and we’ve seen a lot of positive results from that. It’s kept our younger people with us to be honest with you.”

“Be transparent and clear about what those expectations are,” Kuperus said. “That’s the most positive experience in onboarding.”

He said his company is moving toward a skills checklist format to make sure employees are working toward the right goals and growing at the right speed.

Mariani also has a ranking system that looks at employees’ skill sets and what they can do. That affects their promotions as well as their pay.

Keeping good workers.

With the high level of competition for good workers in the industry, retention is always a hot topic.

Kuperus said a shared vision and excitement for that vision from the ownership is really attractive. “It might not even be a high rate of growth; it’s more excitement about where we’re going.”

To him, maintaining a high quality of work and professionalism, as well as a great work environment are what keeps him at his company. “That, and focusing on pleasing the clients and not themselves,” he said.

For Kehoe, stagnation at the company would make him think about leaving. Growth in the right direction and open communication about that growth are key. “When communication breaks down, that when I would look elsewhere,” he said.

Melograno said the same. “I want to be able to continue to grow and do what I love and what I’m passionate about,” he said.

He said he loves that the team at Mariani pushes themselves to get better. “If you’re somebody who wants to stand idly by, it wouldn’t be a good place for you.”

He said compensation is only a small part of what keeps people at a company. Mariani recently conducted a survey asking employees to rank the five most important things to them at work. Compensation was at No. 3, while No. 1 was work-life balance and No. 2 was career growth.