Keep Your Lawn & Landscape Employees Longer: Improve Retention by Preventing Burnout

It happens in the Spring and Summer more than any time of the year. No-shows, no-notice quits and competitor poaching of key employees can leave a business owner feeling like a loser and stressed out night and day. Heavy turnover can drive a business owner to drink…or worse…give up on your entrepreneurial dream.

You want reliable and affordable employees.  Ones that will stay with you all season and get better as the season goes along, right?

Unfortunately, turnover rates seem to be growing in many lawn and landscape companies. It’s no wonder things are getting tougher for employers.  As of this writing, the unemployment rate is 3.6%, business is booming and there’s a “help wanted” sign posted on every street, inside every email inbox and flashing brightly on social media outlets.

So, what’s a hard-working, customer-loving, lawn business owner, who wants to grow the company to do to retain employees?  I’m about to share the plan.  But first, just a tiny bit of background.

I’ve proudly been an employer since 1987.  I certainly didn’t know these simple, powerful and enduring retention strategies when I began my journey as an employer. But owning and operating my companies over the last 3 decades has taught me valuable lessons.

I wish I had someone share these steps with me the day I became an employer! Life would have been easier during times like these.

The 4 Step Plan to Reduce Turnover in Your Lawn or Landscape Company

Here’s why I decided to publish this closely-guarded, highly-effective, employer-friendly information.

In three recent conversations, I’ve had to talk landscape business owners off the cliff…that is…quitting their business because of employees quitting them.  In each case, due to repetitive turnover, the business owner was ready to throw away their entrepreneurial dreams. They felt like they couldn’t attract or keep the right people.  High turnover had infected their minds and each was on the edge of burnout.  Not good!  So let’s get down to business.

Step 1 – Improve Your Employee Communication Plan

Many of your employees leave for one reason, they don’t feel important.

You can turn this around immediately by having a daily huddle (5-15 minutes) with your individual crews.  Keeping each person informed about where they are going, what they are doing, who they will be working with, who they are working for, how long the job should take, what materials and equipment are involved, and what to do when things go wrong creates an instant improvement in employee engagement.

The more organized you are for this short meeting, the more likely you gain respect.  Better yet, an organized morning huddle will start the day with positive energy. Two tips to make this meeting effective: a) keep it short and b) the information you cover MUST be put into writing.  Written instructions are more powerful tools than backpack blowers!

Next, you must share the bigger-picture of teamwork by holding a weekly strategy meeting. Here’s where you share weekly, monthly and annual goals.  Focus on the future with a longer view than the one day view of the daily huddle.  These meetings can become highly effective when you use the time to: a) share positive customer feedback, b) recognize your team members for a job well done and c) share negative customer feedback so you can teach, train and inspire your team to get better.

I have found that skipping a weekly team meeting increases tardiness, absenteeism and hurts morale.  Again, your employees are looking to you, as their employer, for something to keep them interested. The more effective your communication plan, the more likely it is that people ignore the dozens of “help wanted” offers they see every day.

Speaking of improved communication, watch your language!  Practice the habit of saying PLEASE and THANK YOU when you are talking with your employees.  Being kind is a simple idea.  But it’s an idea that pays big dividends. Breaking the habit of using foul language, disrespectful tonality or hurried brush-offs when you talk with employees could instantly improve retention.

I recently saw Tom Peters, author of the mega-selling management book, In Search of Excellence, speak at a seminar.  Tom slowly walked through the crowd of 500 people, as we sat at round tables, talking about his 40+ years as a management consultant for large businesses.

Tom said, “I’ve been reminding people for over 40 years of the exact same thing! Say Please and say Thank You for one reason: it works!”

So make sure you don’t overlook the little things that can make a big difference in how your team feels about working for you.

Step 2 – Build Consistency, Repetition & Clarity of Policy

Busy business owners…especially the young start-ups and owner-operators working in the field…make a lethal mistake that instantly creates high-turnover.

They fail to establish and stick to regular work hours. Let me explain.  Most companies have an established “start time”.  You know…the time everyone is supposed to report to work.  It’s typically something like 6, 7 or 8 AM.  And…if your staff doesn’t show up on time…it can ruin the whole day.

Well, you can ruin your staff’s whole evening AND contribute to family problems when you fail to establish a “quit time” and stick to it.  I have learned that the best way to keep dependable family-oriented employees is provide consistent work hours.  People want to know if the stop time is 4, 5 or 6 pm.  And YOU better honor the commitment to let people go home at quitting time.

Again, this is a simple idea, but one that can pay huge dividends for years to come.

Speaking of staying consistent, as you add employees, a written policy manual is an essential tool to help you apply company policies fairly with all employees.  Time and memory has a funny way of altering wordsWritten policies can be referred to over and over again. Think of how important the Constitution of the United States of America has been to our country.  4543 words that has guided our country since 1776.

Your policy manual explains things like your start and stop times, holiday schedules, vacations, calling in to alert you when they can’t make it to work on time, pay schedule, how to answer the phone, how to speak with customers and so on.  Failure to build a written policy manual that guides your enforcement of company policy is a guarantee that you will have HIGH turnover.

The more detailed instructions you create inside your policy manuals, the more people you’ll be able to manage. And make sure you write this one down on your bathroom mirror: Until you have a written policy manual, DON’T hire a manager!  Hiring a manager WITHOUT having a policy manual to guide their daily responsibilities is like begging for an encounter with poison oak.

Eventually, your policy manual will grow to include things like organizational charts, customer service training, job descriptions, daily management schedules, paperwork training and so on.

Probably the best book ever written on this subject is The E-Myth Landscape Contractor: Why Most Landscape Companies Don’t Work and What to Do About It.  This book teaches you “systems thinking”.  It outlines the key systems a successful will create to build a company that works when the business owner is not there. You can order online at a discount right here.

Step 3 – Create Awareness of Opportunity

I shared in step 1 that people leave you because they don’t feel important.  Now I’m about to share the very best way YOU can help people FEEL important.

You must become their teacher!

The very best employee retention system means that YOU are going to develop a plan to bring on people with the lowest level of physical and mental capacity necessary to perform a job within acceptable levels of quality.  The lower the initial skills required upon hiring, the less you can pay this person at the start.  Low pay rates help you keep your business costs down.

Why do most fast-food restaurants hire young, no-experience, first job ever employees?  Because they can hire them to work for low wages AND they know they have a SYSTEM to train them quickly.  You need a similar training system in your company.

Now, before you get you’re your feathers ruffled and say – landscaping ain’t the same as fast food work – I already know that.  But hear me out.

The average length of tenure for USA employees is 4.2 years, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  The average tenure for workers in the age range 25 to 34 was just 2.8 years.  Use these benchmarks and go look in your employee records. How does your employee roster compare?

When you make a commitment to teach, train and HELP people understand how to MOVE UP in your company, you’ve discovered the single most powerful retention tool ever created.

Engaged minds don’t feel the need to look elsewhere for a new job.  If an employee feels like they have the chance to grow, they will stay with you longer than you might expect. If you are teaching, training and coaching on a regular basis, your company will help people feel important!

I’d like you to think of this as teaching a person how to walk up a set of stairs.  One step at time, you move up, up, up. The person willing to take a series of upward steps is rewarded with higher pay and greater personal satisfaction from their job.

If your company has survived beyond 5 or 10 years, I’m almost willing to bet you’ve had a person or two who learned a lot while working there.  The more they learned, the more valuable they became for your company. And the longer they stayed, they saw their pay increase as a result of their experience.

Now go back to the median length of employment for 24-35 year-old in the USA.  It’s just 2.8 years.

Build a training program that teaches an entry level employee how they can increase their pay 50% to 100% in 2.8 years and I’ll bet your retention goes up, up, up.

Think about your first 2.8 years working in this business.  Did you find a level of excitement and positive energy learning NEW things?  I’ll bet you said YES.

The more you train, the longer people stay. Period.

If your company is lacking a well-defined training program, then you’re a candidate for the 13-Module Build Your Team Training ProgramLearn more here.

Step 4 – Calm, Cool and Confident

I’ve met many busy business owners who are addicted to urgency.  They are addicted to feeling NEEDED by their employees.  They get a dose of adrenaline every time their employees ask them to help solve a problem.  Over time, they may feel indispensable and irreplaceable as they put out fire after fire.  If this sounds like you, please keep reading.

I know…being a business owner can be stressful at times.  We get super-busy in the spring and summer with endless business opportunities. We juggle the management of employees, customers, vendors and equipment.  Nothing compares to the stress of employee management. So let’s get to work. If you follow the best-practices as described above, you will be able to reduce employee burnout and slow down turnover of employees in your company.

Every time you decide to adjust your business practices, you have a chance to learn and improve.  So don’t think you are stuck with burned out employees and high turnover.  This doesn’t have to continue!  Adjust YOUR behavior and adjust your business plans.  Confidence comes as you witness improvements in your organization.

Burned out business owners can’t keep happy and productive employees. You need to stay energized, positive and productive.  Step 4 to slow turnover in your company is make sure YOU avoid burnout.

We recently published an article that has received huge praise from owners of lawn and landscape companies.  We titled it: 5 Ways Landscapers Avoid Business (and personal) Burnout.  It’s a short read.

I need you to be the calm and cool adult in the room when things go wrong.  So please use this process when you face a difficult situation. From upset customers to disgruntled employees here’s a 3-step process to help you stay calm and in control.

  1. Get the facts about the situation. Takes notes so you get it right.
  2. Repeat what you just heard back to the employee and make sure you clearly understand their concerns.
  3. Ask them what they would like for you to do about it.

You may not be able to meet their request.  They may ask for something you can’t do.  But…simply by listening, staying calm and showing empathy you demonstrate a willingness to be respectful. By listening you make people feel important.  People who feel important are likely to stay with you for the long haul.

So there’s your 4-point plan to help your employees avoid burnout and help you reduce turnover in your company.  Let me know what you think.  If you need help, just call or email.  My team and I are standing by.

Tony Bass is a featured speaker and landscape business consultant. He is the founder, creator and CEO of the Super Lawn Toolkit training program for growing lawn and landscape business owners. You can reach Tony at 478-822-9706 or