Why you need to expand benefits to keep and entice talent

(Photo: zimmytws / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images)
(Photo: zimmytws / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images)

A major story for the green industry in 2021 has been how tight the labor crunch has been. While many landscaping operations may raise wages to entice new employees, experts emphasize that business owners can use benefits as a way to offer a more comprehensive package.

(Photo: zimmytws / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images)
(Photo: zimmytws / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images)

Brian McCabe is one of them. He is a financial adviser with Savage and Associates and co-owner of McCabe Outdoor Power, an equipment dealer in Grand Rapids, Ohio.

The first step to expanding benefits is to work with a financial advisor or professional to help evaluate your options and your accountant to work through any tax implications. McCabe recommends a small landscape business consider something as easy as a simple IRA which has a minimal startup for the participant — under $20. An employee can contribute up to $13,500 currently a year. An employer would typically match the first 3 percent of employee’s contributions. For example, an employee making $40,000 a year would only cost a company $1,200 a year if the employee opted to contribute at least 3 percent to the plan.

Brian McCabe
Brian McCabe

“That contribution is a tax write-off for the business as well,” he says. “It’s a way to tell your employees that you care about them and that you’re trying to do something for them.”

McCabe recommends employers work with a financial adviser to allocate a set amount of money monthly for employees to contribute to several different offerings: health insurance, a retirement plan and/or life insurance. This allows a company to provide a more customized approach to a benefits package.

“It’s something these small companies can start to offer and think about rounding out their benefits portfolio,” he says.

Gauge employee interest

Sam Gembel, owner of Atlas Outdoor in Flint, Mich., says his company constantly looks at different benefits for his employees – whether that’s purchasing new equipment to save wear and tear on his crew members’ bodies or adding additional offerings to the employment package.

Gembel says he learned the hard way that he needed employee input before adding any additional offerings. Atlas Outdoor provides lawn maintenance and design/build services to half residential and half commercial clients and does commercial snow removal.

“In my mind, it was, ‘Oh, well, everybody wants retirement,’” he says. “We started dealing with the benefits guy and getting ideas on what it was going to cost and what the company portion was going to be.”

Sam Gembel
Sam Gembel

As Atlas Outdoor readied the launch of its retirement package, Gembel says he wanted to gauge interest. The company conducted an internal survey to see what benefits employees would like to see.

“Hardly anybody mentioned a retirement in there,” he says. “There were more people asking about health benefits.”

As Gembel looked at competitors in the landscape industry, many offered retirement packages. Health benefits, though, would be a strong recruitment and retention tool. So Gembel pivoted and added health insurance first.

Atlas Outdoor pays the employer portion year-round for health benefits, especially for a handful of summer employees who only run snow plows in the winter. Gembel says during the initial rollout, more than half his company signed up. He also says his employees prefer Atlas Outdoor’s health insurance over a free plan available through the county. Employees are eligible at the 60-day mark, and Gembel says many employees start asking about eligibility sooner.

“A lot of people at 50 days are going ‘when can I sign up and get on the benefits plan?’” he says. “We worked really hard to find a good package that had a good offer for the team. When you look at it, yes, it’s an investment. But it’s cheaper than Indeed, it’s cheaper than training, it’s cheaper than ZipRecruiter,” he says. “Our company was in business for 10 years before we rolled out health benefits. But I feel like it was exactly the right time to do it.”

Christina Herrick headshot (Photo: LM Staff)

Christina Herrick

Christina Herrick is a former Editor for Landscape Management. A Journalist graduate from Ohio Northern University, Christina is known for sharing her insightful experiences on the road with her audience.

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