By Paul Taylor
The end of the year is just around the corner and many tree care company owners will soon begin thinking about what they are going to stuff in their employees’ stockings this holiday season. For some short-sighted owners, the holidays may be the only time of year they do something above and beyond for their employees. I think it would be wise for employers to learn from the lessons of Ebenezer Scrooge and consider ways to take better care of their people throughout the year. They might just find that taking care of their employees on a regular basis is a surefire way of taking care of their business as a whole.
A business is only as good as the people who work for it, and I don’t think there is a single issue fellow arborists and I have commiserated over more than how difficult it is to find good people. Whether a tree care company employs five people or 500, finding and retaining reliable employees who are qualified to get the job done are two of the greatest day-to-day challenges of our industry. Various studies have gauged the cost of replacing a worker at 70 to 200 percent of that employee’s annual salary. The loss of productivity, damage to company morale when a valued co-worker moves on, and the sheer aggravation of having to spend time interviewing and training new employees should be all the motivation tree care company owners need to be more proactive about creating a work environment that is conducive to strengthening and retaining employees.
Providing a vehicle for your employee’s retirement savings can be a relatively inexpensive way to further attract and maintain your workforce. Simplified Employee Pensions (SEP), 401 (K) or profit sharing programs are fairly painless to establish and will further demonstrate a commitment to your employees’ long-term interests. Have your accountant or financial advisor explain the various employee savings plans that might be a good fit for your workers and your business model.
The rising cost of healthcare is putting traditional Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) out of the reach of many small businesses. Despite this trend, tree care company owners should still consider alternative healthcare plan options that make it easier and more cost effective for employees to receive adequate medical coverage. Health Reimbursement Accounts (HRA) and Health Savings Accounts (HSA) are two potential options available to business owners in most states. In both instances, employers can subsidize their employee’s healthcare by funding either the HSA or covering the deductible of the HRA. Health plan options vary somewhat by state, so speak with your insurance agent about the nuts and bolts of eligible plans to determine which program is right for your business and your employees.
You don’t need to be a Fortune 500 organization to consider protecting your employees for life. In most states, a group life plan can be established with as few as two employees. Offering group life insurance to your workers can serve as a tax deduction for the business, and will likely afford your employees an added sense of security working for your company. Life insurance is something a lot of guys might not think much about, but make it painless for them to get covered, and they’ll likely feel better about their job and the added security it provides them on the home-front.
It’s the little things
Though traditional perks such as salary, healthcare coverage, retirement savings, and productivity-related bonuses can help entice employees to stay on board, they are not necessarily the only factors impacting employee satisfaction or retention. The compensation package an employee receives may be at par or even above the going rate, but if a guy dreads going to work every day because his supervisor or boss is a slave driver, then it’s likely he will eventually consider moving on. Owners and managers can make significant low-cost gains by fostering an environment in which workers feel a sense of accomplishment, recognition, competence, personal growth and respect.
Power to the people
Company owners and supervisors who listen and respond to their employees’ ideas and concerns will go a long way towards bolstering self-esteem, strengthening their team and increasing overall job satisfaction. Invest in your employees training and education so they can make good decisions on the jobsite. If you’ve done your job as a manager, you shouldn’t have to micro-manage your employees to death.
Lend a hand
As an owner or supervisor, you should never ask your foot soldiers to do anything you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself. The primary reason you have employees is to free up your time to tackle bigger picture tasks within the business. Despite this fact, owners and managers shouldn’t be above getting their hands dirty from time to time. The respect you’ll gain from your employee’s realization that you are a tree guy (or gal) just like them will boost morale in ways you can’t put a price tag on.
Employees often cite money as the primary reason for moving from one outfit to another, but more often than not in our industry, the primary reason employees jump ship is because they are unsatisfied with their job or circumstances within the company. Employers who make an effort beyond payroll or boilerplate benefit packages will likely reap significant bottom-line benefits without adding to their overhead.
Paul Taylor, founder and former “head monkey” of Arborwear, has been involved in the tree care industry since he bought his first chain saw (before he was old enough to drive a car). He is now involved in a new venture, Long Splice Design, and specializes in the design, manufacture, and sourcing of sewn products. You will also find him a couple days a week plying his favorite trade in the treetops. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.