Becoming the Best Place to Work

Here are a few things business owners and managers should remember while recruiting and retaining snow and ice control operators this season.

Dd L&r
Douglas Dynamics

It’s no secret that labor is hard to come by these days. In fact, businesses across sectors continue to struggle with finding quality employees. In early 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that more than 4.3 million people left the labor force since the start of the pandemic.

The numbers highlight a central truth: working for the right employer can make the difference between loving your job and looking for a better one. With this in mind, it’s important that business owners create a healthy environment that their employees enjoy working in.

While there is no “easy button” for recruiting, it’s now more important than ever for companies to find ways to retain their existing employees. Here are a few things business owners and managers should remember while recruiting and retaining snow and ice control operators this season.

Build and retain your loyal employees

The primary reason for turnover usually stems from seeking better opportunities with an improved work-life balance. People want to work at a place where they are challenged, valued, recognized and can find meaningful work—and yes, competitive pay is important, too.

Also, seek to understand your team's needs so that they never feel unappreciated or as if their needs are not being met. By being proactive and offering this type of environment to existing employees, it will benefit your retention efforts.

Here are four ideas to help managers retain their valuable skilled workers:

Create a positive culture

Design your team and your space to be productive and pleasant. A positive culture starts from the top down. When employees feel like what they do matters and it’s appreciated, it creates loyalty that’s hard to find elsewhere. Take the time to build those relationships within your team. It’s harder to say goodbye to a boss you like working for. People often leave when they have no ties to the company, and no coworkers they enjoy being around. Start daily group check-ins, discuss high-level initiatives, hold luncheons showing appreciation, reassure the team that you’re all in this together, offer service awards and make a big deal about each person’s dedication to the company.

Offer cross-training and job rotations

Snow plows are exposed to a lot of wear and tear that will eventually need service. If you have the capacity, having an on-hand mechanic is a no-brainer. Finding a mechanic willing to cross-train your plow drivers is even better. Training drivers to fix their plow in the field will greatly reduce time for repairs. It will also give your drivers an advantage they wouldn’t have had otherwise, and your mechanic will have a chance at mentoring and training others.

Job rotations are more of a long-term cross-training opportunity where two employees switch roles for an extended period of time. Having to walk in someone else’s shoes creates awareness and appreciation between departments, and it can also bring new solutions to the table by looking at a problem from another perspective.

Giving high performers a chance to experience additional opportunities within the company can benefit your business in multiple ways. Not only will it help strengthen the knowledge of your team, but will also keep them happy, feeling fulfilled, and actively building their own career in a way that can impact your company’s growth in return.

Conduct “stay interviews” and promote from within

Annual reviews don’t provide the opportunity to correct behavioral issues, and an exit interview is too late to give praise and show appreciation for an employee’s efforts. It’s also too late to make an unhappy employee stay.

Resignations and turnover happen when the company is unstable and there’s a lack of leadership. Once employees see a pattern, they start wondering what else is out there. The constant turnover of employees also leads to frustration and burnout for those who must cover for and train new coworkers, continually bearing the brunt of the responsibility.

Take the time to hold “stay interviews” to gain ideas on how to re-energize the team, see how things are going, and let them know their voice is heard. Treat each employee like a new hire you want to impress. Engage on a quarterly or biannual basis to understand where each employee is personally and professionally, learning who they are as a person. Challenge those who want additional experience and find it rewarding. Find out what is important to them, what makes them feel proud, what their interests are—and then make a point to deliver on that.

Rethink your competitive benefits

There are some benefits that are too hard to pass up. Think of what you can offer that could move the needle, and ask your team what matters to them. A good salary, health insurance and a vacation plan are almost requirements these days.

Then think beyond that: profit sharing, team building activities/parties, a day of stewardship, work flexibility during slow times, a warm meal at the office during storms or perfect attendance awards are a few ways to improve morale. There are numerous books on how to get creative with rewards and motivating employees without breaking the bank.

Define your business differentiation statement

In this competitive landscape—whether you’re recruiting or retaining—you need to make it clear what sets your company apart. Why do people want to work for you vs the competition? Other than competitive pay and a nice benefits package, what makes your snow and ice control operators dedicated to your company?

Set clear expectations up front and recognize good performance often. Have a motto—something inspirational, using simple words that are easy to memorize, embody, live and teach. Revisit it regularly and integrate it in everything you do.

Superior equipment can make the difference

Most people are not looking for a labor-intensive job—and there’s only a small age group that is healthy enough to get it done efficiently. That’s why over the years, technology has grown to develop walk-behind, ride-on and UTV powered equipment to get the job done faster and safer. Having powered machines reduces the amount of time and people needed to get the job done, which is especially important when looking for sidewalk crews.

Superior equipment has additional benefits outside of just making the job more tolerable.

  • Who doesn’t want to use the newest equipment in the industry? Making the job fun again and less labor intensive is enticing for a lot of snow and ice professionals.
  • Having technologically advanced equipment can even allow you to monitor your crew and material usage, giving you the data needed to reduce costs and increase efficiency.
  • Powered equipment results in less injury claims by ensuring sidewalk crews are more protected and not as exposed to the elements where they are prone to hypothermia, frostbite or even being hit by a car.

We can’t stress this enough: Don’t overlook preparation or quality of equipment—these things matter to your team too! Make sure your plowing vehicles are in good working condition, maintained regularly and fully stocked with parts and tools in case of a breakdown. This can greatly reduce the stress of the job.

Recruiting outside the box

The job market is not like it once was. Job seekers have the advantage and employers need to adapt. Here’s a few last tips on where to find the right people and some helpful questions to start thinking outside of the box with your recruiting efforts.

Who has your labor? Every industry is experiencing different highs and lows. You want to keep your full-time employees busy, or you may lose them for good if they find a new job during a temporary layoff.

Find out where you are short on help, and look to outside industries for relationships where you can both benefit. Needs change and being able to adapt and build cross-industry partnerships is where you’ll find yourself rising above the rest.

Who is being overlooked? Get creative about how you approach the labor pool and where you look to find good workers. Tap into populations that may be overlooked by others and break through the noise. By this year, a huge portion of the working population will go into retirement, leaving us two million workers short in manufacturing and labor. It’s an all hands-on deck situation where any additional help is beneficial.

Driving a plow gets more efficient over time, but with a little focus and diligence, almost anyone can be trained to use a snowplow. Some people go out looking for an autonomous job where they can work independently and gain freedom, which is exactly what you get with snow and ice control. Being a plow driver can also be fun to use new, powerful equipment. It can be satisfying to watch a buried lot become clear with each pass.

Even though full-time employees can be seen as more reliable, don’t bypass someone looking for part time work. It could end up being a smart business decision since part-time employees can help ease the workload but don’t require benefits like health insurance and a 401K.

Lastly, some contractors are just looking for seasonal work in the winter and additional bodies can help your bottom line drastically. Having the personnel to be able to switch out crews during heavy storms will also boost morale by keeping your “starters” more rested and alert. Some subcontractors even come with their own equipment so you can gain seasonal help and expand service capabilities at the same time.

What are employees saying? Employee reviews matter just as much as customer reviews do—88% of people trust online reviews as much as they do a personal recommendation. Use social media and the digital world to your favor. Create employee video reviews on your smartphone and post it to your website and social media. You can even run paid ads for employment and target a certain demographic you’re trying to reach. You may catch the attention of someone who isn’t even actively looking for a new job but could motivate them to apply.

Do you offer referral bonuses? Loyal employees can be your best advocates. Offer an incentive when they recommend your company to friends and family who are looking for employment. People generally want to work around other people they know and like.

Keeping your current employees happy can be your best recruiting method—and the better you take care of your employees, the better they will take care of your clients. Ultimately, it’s about being the kind of company that people want to work for.