Surviving the challenges of employee retention

Read Time

9 minutes


Steven Tindle


May 8, 2023

Surviving the challenges of employee retention

Being a high-growth business in the landscaping industry means being flexible, always pivoting, and surviving the volatile nature of the varying seasons of business. One of the biggest challenges landscaping businesses face is employee retention and recruiting. WIth seasonal effects on the busyness of business it can be hard to retain your staff and build them back up throughout the year. 

There are many approaches to handling your workforce during seasonal slow downs and upticks. Some employers opt to let employees go for tax reasons, some look to furlough their employees resulting in a temporary absence until business returns. Situations like these have always been a part of the landscaping industry but with increases in competition and an ever growing industry of opportunities, these sort of strategies are becoming riskier to business.

There are ways to reduce the risks, or strategies to avoid the risks entirely if your business can pursue the right opportunities. Whatever the case may be for your business, you will need a strategy in place to survive these competitive seasons. Keep reading to see what may best suit your business.  

Understanding employee retention during the slow season   

Margins are everything. In the world of landscaping, your services and expenses are meticulously calculated and decided on to ensure you’re meeting optimal margins while being competitive within the market. For this reason, your employee wages are precisely set on what you can afford to offer while still breaking even on your offerings. The issue is that employee wages are dependent upon the amount of services you’re providing throughout the year to continue to meet those margins. 

If your services slow down to the point where keeping employees on payroll is hurting the business then you need to find a pivot strategy. It is not viable to endure a loss in revenue during slower seasons in the hopes that you can make up for it when business picks back up. This is leaving your growth to a gamble and it will be a gamble you’ll lose. 

Some companies pay their employees hourly so that they’re not overpaying on employee expenses when business doesn’t come in. But unless you’re working on a contractor basis, your employees still require benefits and the other stable comforts of employment while staffed to your business. Benefits are a costly expense when it comes to your workforce, which is why it’s such a challenge to keep employees onboarded while business slows down.

These factors are important to keep in mind both when hiring new employees and when preparing for the arriving slow down seasons. 

Furlough vs. layoffs

It’s a tough decision to make, having to reduce your labor to protect profitability. The unfortunate truth is that for some landscaping companies, this is just an inevitable factor of business. If you do have to venture the route of reduction in labor, then there are a few options you can take, each with their own pros and cons. 

  • Furlough:

    A furlough is defined as a required leave of absence where an employee is expected to return back to work after a certain period of time or once a reduction in workforce is ended. A furlough is a great choice for a company focused on retaining talent rather than worrying about having to recruit talent back once business picks back up.
  • Pros -  Furloughing is a great retention option because it’s not a complete removal from the business. Employees remain a part of the staff while being furloughed which means they still have access to health insurance and other benefits.
  • Cons - This option is more costly as you have to continue paying for your employees health benefits. This can stress your margins as you try to endure the slow down of business and adds to your year-round expenses.
    • Layoffs:
      Layoffs are the act of permanently removing your employees from your business. While there remains the opportunity that you may be able to hire employees back at a later time, this isn’t an option you can count on realistically. If your slow season expenses are running too high then layoffs may be your only choice as it’s the only way to entirely remove employees from your upkeep costs. 
  • Pros -  Layoffs are a cost savings top option. Not only do you remove your employees payroll from your expenses but you can also eliminate the costs of benefits.  If you expect major slow downs from your clients’ business then layoffs offer you the best opportunity to not stall your company’s growth.
  • Cons - Layoffs are by all means a permanent decision. Not only can this hurt the relationship between employees and employers but it can leave you in a bind if business picks up much sooner than expected. Not only do you risk not being able to attract back quality talent, but you risk having to reinvest in onboarding, training, and achieving a return to your quality of standards.

Whatever choice you make, it’ll surely be a tough one to decide on. The risks go beyond hurting your pipeline, they also include possible damages to company culture, employee morale, and the internal growth of your business. 

Best practices for employee retention during slow seasons

If reducing your workforce is your only viable option, there are some practices you can follow to help eliminate some of the associated risks with workforce reductions. Here are some proactive strategies you can enforce to achieve smooth transitions during let go seasons.  

  • Be upfront and transparent during hiring negotiations

    Not everyone is prepared for the roller coaster nature of working for a landscaping business. Especially when it comes to younger talent, employees can be so focused on getting hired that they don’t prepare for the long-term situations of the industry. As an experienced landscaping leader you should ensure all your hires are aware and prepared for the challenges of the industry, including potential layoffs. 
  • Help them plan

    A part of ensuring they’re prepared for the slow season, go out of your way to offer your support. Give employees a heads up during the hiring process that they’ll need to formulate a plan for possible let go seasons. As slow seasons begin to arrive make sure you sit down with your employees or reach out to them about possible solutions for keeping stability. Some of these solutions can include offering networking with other businesses in need of staffing. Other options can include encouraging employees to utilize the slow down season as a time to focus on other quality of life opportunities. These can include pursuing continued education or training, spending extra time with family, or enjoying a vacation. Always remain sensitive to the nature of the reduction and be transparent about what kind of reduction in workforce they can expect
  • Continue treating them as a part of your company’s community

To reduce hits to morale, there are ways to continue ensuring your workforce knows they’re a part of a community that supports them beyond business hours. Whether you’re furloughing employees or hoping to hire them back at a later date, ensuring they feel supported as a human being and not just a staff member is key to keeping internal growth fueled. Consider forming an internal newsletter that employees can remain subscribed to during let go season. A newsletter or other internal engagement piece is a great opportunity to celebrate important dates like birthdays or anniversaries, keep employees informed about business and returning staffing opportunities, and make them feel connected to the growth of the business.

Whatever options you go for, always remember that transparency and sensitivity are key. If you have to go the route of letting employees go then help them understand that it’s simply a necessary part of business and continue to help them feel valued as an integral part of your company’s history. 

Avoiding the retention struggle

For some companies, employee retention is integral to scaling the business and achieving their growth goals. If you fit into this category then you may be looking for alternatives to the tough choice of enforcing labor reductions. There are options, and it’ll depend on your growth stage, regional market, and networking opportunities to achieve them. 

Contracting relationships 

If changing seasons are a heavy burden on your business, then you may need to restructure your crew strategies entirely. It may not be worth the investment of onboarding, training, and recruiting talent only to have them on payroll for a small portion of the year. This kind of employee churn during slow down seasons can also take a toll on your growth trajectory. 

Instead of filling your organization up with a fully staffed crew, consider focusing on only hiring for a few key leadership roles. Enable these leaders to take on your processes, standards of quality, and company culture so they can easily pass it on to new team members. From there you can look into small contracting teams with specific skills that you can call on during peak busy seasons of the year. Under the supervision of your leadership–and with your leaders remaining the face of the company–they should be able to easily pick up and excel at your offerings. 

Keeping workers on simply by a contract basis eliminates the need for investing in benefits or a robust onboarding system. You can work with third party networks to acquire and establish connections with these contractors so you can plan ahead for their needed availability. This way you can even plan based around which services are in most demand during certain times of the year.

Contracting partnerships

Conversely, you could use this same approach just from the reverse angle. Contracting your own team out to different business owners during your slow down season is an efficient way to keep revenue flowing and your employees paid happily. It may not come out to the same margins of profits but if you consider how much you’re saving by eliminating employee churn it may best suit your current needs.

Finding a partner to contract your employees to can be tricky. If you’re in a market already crowded with competitors all targeting the same offerings it may not be a viable strategy. To create a partnership that works, you have to find a business that has in-demand services during your slow periods and possibly vice versa to ensure everyone is achieving equal value from the partnership. 

Consider connecting with business in highly-niche markets. If your slower seasons come during the winter or fall consider partnering with a snow-scaping business in need of additional hands. Also consider verticals like residential landscaping businesses if you’re in the commercial space. Commercial businesses have different yearly needs than residential clients. 

Expansion opportunities 

Expanding your offerings is no easy feat. It can be a costly investment and a struggle for your company to adapt to. But if you’ve weighed the pros and cons of employee retention and realize keeping your crew intact is vital to your growth, then expansion may be the most viable option. 

First evaluate the toll of losing employees during slow down seasons. Don’t recklessly jump into investing on expanded services because of emotional attachment. You need to calculate how profitable a new service needs to be to make it even worth the effort. An expansion is investible if it drives enough revenue to keep employees on payroll even though it’s not drive major profits. 

Consider smaller services that stay in demand year round. Offer them a la carte so there’s less pressure on clients to sign up. Low effort services that typically don’t drive enough revenue to make your official offer sheet are viable options for keeping crews busy during the slow seasons as well. Even consider going back to the above partnership strategies and consider learning new vertices of services from out of town businesses to bring back to your community during the slow season.

Invest in your crew management 

Even if your teams aren’t being fully utilized, it’s always best to stay invested in their success. Whatever route you take to surviving the off-season your teams need to feel supported and vital to the business. Supporting your staff through the right tools, resources, and company culture are integral to retaining talent through any portion of the year. 

Aspire’s software management platform enables your leadership, to enable your workforce. From providing increased transparency, accessibility to modern tools and up-to-date information, and increased management support of your entire organization–Aspire enables your company to grow from within. See for yourself.

Want to experience software designed to help landscapers achieve growth at twice the industry rate? Schedule a landscaping business software demonstration with Aspire and see how you can take your profits to the next level.

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