November 3, 2023
Jacki HartIn last month's issue, I discussed part one of the pandemic hangover: the impact of inflation on our workforce. If you read it, hopefully you’re well on your way to leveraging the strategy of paying at least a living wage for your area versus the minimum wage mandated by the province. This time, we will discuss the degree of flexibility and support your potential workforce is likely expecting as they strive for ‘work balance’ and navigate stress in a post-pandemic world.

The lifestyle-first habit

Without a doubt, the work from home trend has changed the mindset of a large percentage of the workforce across the country. Everyone I’ve asked in my travels this year knows someone who still works from home (either hybrid or full-time), who would previously have always gone to an office or place of business to work. What does that have to do with employee retention in the landscape professions? Lots.

During the pandemic, many people had to be creative in order to make life work amidst shutdowns. Many benefited from government subsidies for a long time. Employers did as well. This new reality plunks landscape and horticultural professionals squarely into an economy that’s navigating higher interest rates, less discretionary spending, unleashed inflation and new habits of staying closer to home for a living. For most employers for whom I write this column, staying home means not getting paid.

So, we have a workforce that in many ways want or expect to be able to continue this new habit of managing their lives conveniently, sometimes fitting the personal weekly tasks within the work week. Add to this the reality that Gen Z (18-30 year-olds) are less likely to stick to one job for more than a short period of time, and we have a workforce retention challenge that puts us into a whole new ball game.

The new retention landscape

When the going gets tough, the leading entrepreneurs get creative. Now is a good time for you to join them. What this all means to seasonal businesses is that the model of a workforce willing to work 45+ hours a week for 30-ish weeks a year and then fend for themselves the rest of the time, is officially now defunct. Also defunct the model where employees must be willing to work five days a week, starting and finishing at the same time every day, and the same time as everyone else, or there’s no job offer.

Reset your thinking. Employee retention is now inextricably linked to the ‘lifestyle balance’ and ‘stress minimization’ that your company can afford them. This means having ongoing conversations about employees’ wants and needs. And about the stress that each employee is navigating outside of work. It means having new policies on days and hours of work. It means policies which include room for flexibility and customization from one employee to the next. It means building empathy into attendance policies. It means that training has to be a confidence builder and not a source of anxiety when paired with the quick addition of responsibility. It also means ensuring employees know they have to show up when they say they will. I’m seeing successful employers negotiate convenience (for the employee) with dependability (for the employer).

The hardest part of this is that employers are being pinched tighter on margins to make room for more people on staff at any given time and a more complex scheduling regimen to balance it all on the customer-facing side of the business. At a time when employers feel the need to improve efficiency, many employees are feeling the need to stress less.
If paying the living wage is step one to retention, then post-pandemic lifestyle balance is step two.

The reality is, the higher percentage of staff under the age of 35 that a company employs (I’m stereotyping here, but it’s a clear trend), the more likely it is that a significant number of staff are walking out the door because either your workplace is too stressful for them or their home/social life is. Some of you reading this might roll your eyes and think “so what does that have to do with my company?” To you I ask this: “How’s retention going for you?” In all likelihood, I’ll hazard a guess — not too well.

This is a time to slow down in order to go faster. Slow down and talk to your staff one on one. Go for a coffee. Pick them up during the workday and go sit on a park bench. Care, and show it. You don’t need to act as a therapist, but you could direct them toward one if you think it would help. You don’t need to be a parent, but you might want to keep a box of Kleenex in your truck. Sometimes people just need to know you care. If you do, they will trust you. If they trust you, they will be more likely to stay. If they stay, you grow bench strength and minimize the need to recruit and train. Think about it.

Retention. It’s not just about the money. It’s about belonging. It’s about personal safety. It’s about being a part of a social network that is supportive. It’s about realizing that the employers’ role has changed for the foreseeable future. Honest.
Jacki Hart CLM
Prosperity Partners Program Manager