The Labor Issue

A few weeks ago, my brother and I took an afternoon off to spread a pallet of bagged mulch at our mom's house. The weather was pleasant and we grew up working on that property, so we had a good time having flashbacks to days of forced labor in our parents' yard.

About 30 minutes into spade edging the flower beds, I had a sudden epiphany: the root of the labor issue in this industry is that the work itself is a pain. Certainly, some tasks are more pleasant than others, but after spending a couple hours getting sweaty and filthy and worn out carrying and spreading mulch, the labor shortage many of our clients experience came into focus.

I do not have a bulletproof answer to this issue, but I have a few ideas to consider.

Look for automation wherever possible. If the work is physically demanding to the point that your employees don't feel it's worth it for the money, your options are to either pay more or make the work easier where you can. Every year I attend the GIE+EXPO and marvel at the new equipment that exists to make the work you do easier, and more efficient. You can go broke on equipment you may never end up using if you aren't careful, but there are more tools out there than ever to help you streamline your production.

Don't lose sight of the work. There is a danger in success, in that your field staff may feel that management is simply profiting while they are left with all the work. You and I know this isn't true, but somehow you have to convey that fact to your hard working staff. Maybe you show them a path to advancement in your company, or maybe you get out on a job site randomly for a half day. One way or another, you want to communicate that you understand that the work is difficult and close the gap they may perceive between labor and management.

Look for masochists. Within a stone's throw of my house there are about 4 Crossfit gyms. Best I can tell, the people who do cross fit really like to experience pain in groups while they get in shape. And to me, that sounds like a good fit for work in the landscape industry. OK, that's a bit of a joke, but it can't hurt to keep your eyes open for people who seem inclined toward hard physical activity as a means of recreation.

More than anything else, people want to be recognized for the good work that they do. They want to feel that what they do is important, that they are making a difference. Enthusiasm is contagious, and it can go a long way in any organization.