If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that mental health can play a key component in crafting a comfortable, compassionate culture in your company.
With labor being a constant challenge, the next generation of workers is looking for an employer who prioritizes their wellbeing.
That was the message of the “Creating an Impactful and Resilient Workplace Culture” panel at the recent NALP Leaders Forum in Phoenix, Arizona.
Panelists touched on a variety of experiences they’ve encountered in their own businesses and offered advice on how attendees could institute change to boost their company culture. The panel consisted of Mike Bogan, CEO of LandCare; Pam Dooley, owner of Plants Creative Landscapes; Paul Fraynd, CEO of Sun Valley Landscaping; Doug McDuff, president and co-owner of Landscape America; and Phil Allen, professor of landscape management at Brigham Young University.
“Today’s young people don’t want to work for you, they want to work with you,” Allen said of his students and the new-age workforce. “They want positions aligned with their moral compass.”
Allen said recent college grads are part of a “care about me” movement and want to know what future employers will do for them.
Things to try. Plants Creative’s annual meeting is centralized on a specific them every year, and Dooley noted that last year’s theme was rightfully nurture.
“You could just sense the need for it,” she said.
One thing that stemmed from the meeting was establishing an EAP, or employee assistance program, to provide temporary, short-term counseling for employees in need.
“We just had to enroll three people for the entire team to qualify,” Dooley said, adding it’s been beneficial to the company.
Bogan agreed with the benefits of an EAP, adding it’s completely anonymous who utilizes the program, which is encouraging for employees.
Another foundational element of culture is flexibility. Fraynd said it’s been even more important since the COVID-19 pandemic.
When it comes to working from home, something the younger generation is quite keen on, Fraynd said being flexible and mindful can help keep employees happy.
“We had flexibility before COVID but now it’s more widespread,” he said of employees working from home.
While remaining flexible is important, Fraynd said there are some drawbacks when more and more employees are opting for remote work.
“There’s less I can do in terms of mentorship,” he said, “and sometimes it can hard to build trust.”
McDuff said Landscape America has been able to better attract and retain employees now that they are keeping them on year-round.
Instead of laying off employees at the end of the season — late December to mid-March — McDuff said his company has found a way to hold on to those workers by finding other tasks for them.
“This year we started a new program where we guaranteed them 40 hours a week through the winter,” he said. “They’re doing a lot of training. Some folks are helping our sales team…some are helping our mechanics.”
“It gives them more stability,” McDuff added.
McDuff said the response has been great so far. And added that he has clients who are incredibly supportive of it and finding additional work for crews to do.
Looking into the future, McDuff said he’d like to find charitable organizations to partner with so workers can volunteer with them, and it would go toward their 40 hours.
Additionally, Landscape America’s culture committee plays a key role in creating a happy, healthy workplace.
McDuff noted that he gives the culture committee, which is a small group of staff members who volunteered, a budgeted amount of money every year to plan parties and fun activities for employees.
“It’s been an incredible program for us,” he said.
Advice for leading. But hosting parties and providing therapy aren’t the only ways to improve culture. The panel noted there are several things that attendees could do, as leaders of their businesses, to promote a unified culture.
Fraynd suggests sharing the bottom line with everyone.
“I’m a big believer that people do better with more information,” he said.
Sun Valley Landscaping shares individualized profit & loss statements with each crew to show them exactly how their work is impacting the business. Fraynd said it’s been a big motivator.
Another thing that Fraynd learned about good leadership in the last year is the importance of making sure the bench is well stocked.
In 2021 Sun Valley lost eight of 17 crew leads in a one-month period.
“It left us with bare bones,” Fraynd said, noting that the crew leads weren’t really training the crew members below them either. “We didn’t have a good system for having backup people in place. The biggest lesson I learn is to build the bench.”
Bogan said leaders should also be cautious of excluding people when trying to promote the company’s culture.
He said he’s learned this years ago after attempting to start a bible study.
“People found it to be alienating,” he said.
Allen added that something he sees in students entering the green industry is an eagerness to advance.
“Young people today want a clear path forward and lots of feedback,” he said. “Patience is not in their vocabulary.”
That’s why Dooley said she’s been developing a program for leadership over the last two years for Plant Creative’s management team.
“It’s based on key components of job skills, human skills and expanded skills,” she said. “Essentially the job skills components are training and offering certain certifications and working with NALP and local trade schools…the human skills is filled with a program called ManageMentor, and it’s through Harvard. It’s an online platform that provides 42 topics that re broken down into quadrants of leader of self, leader of others and leader of business.”
Dooley said it’s also helpful that when a new employee is hired their first five days on the job show a true picture of what an average day will be like.
So, volunteer ambassadors take the new hire and create a five-day plan for them. Then, after spending five days out in the thick of things, the training process begins.
But when it comes down to it, something everyone wants, new hire or seasoned employee, is a good work/life balance.
Bogan said that’s a term that needs to be redefined, adding that by creating a better culture, leaders and their employees can improve that balance.
“It implies work and life are on opposite sides of the scale,” he said. “But we should all be doing something that we find fulfillment in. One shouldn’t be excluded from each other. There’s that disconnect that one has to come at the other’s expense.”