Finding—and keeping—good people is an industry-wide challenge for lawn and landscaping companies. Companies that have been successful with recruiting and retaining have been those that have thought outside of the box. For Mark Borst, owner of Borst Landscape & Design in Allendale, New Jersey, an employee referral program has been a successful solution for 10 years now.
Borst says that incentivizing existing employees to recruit new team members has been highly effective. He offers a few tips on how to make it work.
Stagger the reward
Borst says that when he first started giving out employee rewards for referrals, he gave them right away. But he quickly learned that didn’t do anything to inspire employees to bring in high-quality workers that would stick around. That’s why he shifted the reward to one month.
If a team member brings in a referral, they can earn $250 after the new employee has been there one month. A second referral bonus of $250 comes after the new employee stays for three months.
“I’ve found this is the best way to encourage employees to look for new hires that are actually going to stick around,” he says. “Sure, we’ve still had people leave after the three months but it’s a risk I’ve decided I’m willing to take. I have found that pushing the second bonus out too much further also diminishes the motivation factor.”
Keep your bonuses in line with the marketplace
Over the years, Borst says he’s had to raise the amount he was giving out in bonuses to match the current marketplace. He says that once you create a referral reward program, it can be easy to become complacent and just give out the bonuses you’re used to giving. But as the need becomes greater, you need to up the ante.
“Over time, I found my initial $200 bonus that I had been giving out just wasn’t motivating anymore,” Borst recalls. “You need to be willing to raise the amount to keep it enticing. It should also be in line with your current marketplace. For Northern New Jersey, $500 in referral bonuses is appropriate. But it can differ based on where you are.”
Evaluate new hires
While Borst admits the labor pool is a major challenge right now, he says it’s still not worth keeping an employee on board that is a poor fit.
“This incentive program definitely helps bring in more people, but it also means we have to take more time to evaluate them and decide whether they’re a good hire,” Borst says. “That initial three-month period is also just the right amount of time to evaluate someone and decide whether they’re right for our company before paying out the second referral bonus. As much as we need more people, we aren’t willing to compromise on quality.”