Treat your people well

October 14, 2019 -  By
For EMI, finding and retaining employees is about treating people with respect. (Photo: Environmental Management Inc.)

For EMI, finding and retaining employees is about treating people with respect. (Photo: Environmental Management Inc.)

Every year, Environmental Management Inc. (EMI) hosts an employee appreciation party that would make anyone want to work for the company.

EMI, which is located in Plain City, Ohio, gives away prizes of all shapes and sizes, including TVs, kayaks, coolers and new tools. Employees are recognized for their hard work and their achievements. Food trucks line up in the parking lot for the afternoon, and attendees feast to their hearts’ content. And did we mention there’s a bouncy castle?

This party is just one of the many ways EMI is fulfilling its mission to develop its people so it can better serve its clients.

“Providing people with work qualifies you as an employer, but it doesn’t have anything to do with your culture,” says Joe Lewis, account manager at EMI. “From the top down, treat people with respect. That is huge and goes a long way.”

In addition to providing employees with an annual appreciation party, the company also focuses on team member professional development. Training is an important part of recruiting and retention for EMI. According to Lewis, the $33 million full-service landscape company has more landscape industry certified professionals than any other company in the country. It has 325 employees, and about 175 of those are full time.

Joe Lewis

Joe Lewis

“Our owners are all about (certification),” he says. Even though it often means working around peoples’ schedules, if you incentivize the training, employees will want to participate, Lewis adds.

Lewis notes that whether or not employees decide to make a career in the landscaping industry, if they get certified, they’re developing themselves as professionals, which helps them no matter what industry they may move on to.

Developing a model of retention that revolves around training isn’t easy, Lewis says, but it’s necessary because in this day and age, that is what the workforce is focused on. He says that maybe 50 years ago, employees would simply do a job without knowing why they are doing it, but today, they want to learn, and they want to know why they are being asked to do something.

It perhaps goes without saying, but a big part of employee retention also lies in paying your employees a fair wage, Lewis says. Good wages help EMI obtain and keep employees, despite falling unemployment rates, according to Lewis.

EMI also leans on referrals to get additional employees. According to Lewis, if you find one good employee and treat him or her right, you’ll soon find that they know people. Though he says some companies pooh-pooh the referral method of filling out crews, stating “if you lose one, you lose the other,” he says that’s the wrong attitude to take.

“Stop thinking of failing already, stop thinking of failing before you’re started,” he says. “Think, ‘Wow, we have two, and once they see how great it is here, that two could turn into six, could turn into 10, could turn into a generation.’”

EMI is involved in the Landscape Management Apprenticeship Program through NALP. (Photo: Environmental Management Inc.)

EMI is involved in the Landscape Management Apprenticeship Program through NALP. (Photo: Environmental Management Inc.)

It may sound simple, but Lewis says that if you show you care, you can both attract and retain most employees.
“People are motivated by what they see and feel, and that’s what’s worked for us and continued to work for us. We’re taking care of our people and constantly attracting more,” he says.

Lewis acknowledges that developing a company culture and attracting employees isn’t going to happen overnight for a company that’s struggling to do so right now. He urges companies to do whatever they can to not get to that point by making sure they’re constantly planting seeds to recruit more talent.

“Having a presence on social media, having a website and being engaged in the advocacy for the industry, that helps,” he says. “Being in schools, in the career centers, in the FFA and in state and national associations, that pays dividends.”

EMI also has become involved in the Landscape Management Apprenticeship Program, which is a program through the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) that focuses on training apprentices in technical maintenance, installation and irrigation skills. According to NALP, the program requires 2,000 hours of on-the-job training as well as a minimum of 144 hours in the classroom or the online equivalent.

“If you’re training people, this is a tool to focus the energy of training into something that will benefit the company and the employee forever,” Lewis says.

Currently, there are 18 apprenticeship programs in the country, and EMI has a dozen of those, according to Lewis.

The company still relies on the H-2B guest-worker visa program, but not too heavily. According to Lewis, it is trying to stick with 15 to 20 H-2B employees. He cautions against relying on the program too much because those employees are not guaranteed.

“I could easily have 100 or more H-2B (workers), but then we’re just so reliant on the H-2B that we wouldn’t figure out maybe there’s something we aren’t doing for our culture to get people. “Make people want to work
for you.”

This article is tagged with and posted in Cover story, October 2019

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