Work-Life Balance: Is It Attainable for Landscape Business Owners?
Achieving work-life balance sounds like a fantasy to many business owners in the landscaping industry. Often working 15-hour days during the busy season, many express that they are constantly on the edge of burnout, with little time for a weekend away, let alone a real vacation.
And yet, some landscape business owners are enjoying a lower-stress, well-balanced life. What are these employers doing differently compared to the others? What changes should be made to ensure balance for all? This article will dive into the key steps to creating a better work-life balance that will allow both company owners and their employees to become happier and more productive.
Why is a proper work-life balance important?
Maintaining the right balance between one’s work and personal life is essential for both owners and their employees. According to the American Institute of Stress, 20% of work-related stress for both employers and staff comes from a work-life imbalance. For employers in particular, the lack of an adequate work-life balance is the number one source of stress. (Source)
On this subject, the research findings are clear: 75% of U.S. employers report that stress is a top health concern, both for themselves and their employees. (Source) More than half of American workers have reported stress-related health problems in the past year. And 94% of American adults believe that stress has a role in developing major illnesses like heart disease and depression (Source). Many landscape employers continue to put the health of themselves and their team members at risk by working rigorous hours and increasing stress levels.
A stressful work-life combination can also be costly for businesses. The American Psychological Association estimates that “more than $500 billion is siphoned off from the U.S. economy because of workplace stress” each year.
To protect the health, finances, and personal lives of landscape company owners and their crews, maintaining a proper work-life balance should be a top priority. Here are some ways to work toward making this goal a reality:
One of the most important ways business owners can begin maintaining a proper work-life balance is by playing to their strengths. Many owners – especially those in the landscaping industry – often try to perform all of the tasks involved in running their business themselves in order to save costs, but it is both impossible and counterproductive. Recognizing strengths – and limitations – is one of the most important qualities an employer can have. Rather than spending hours and hours on a task you are not trained for, hire someone who is trained for it—and spend the valuable time you save doing something that benefits your business. For example:
- Photography: Quality photos of job sites are crucial for a business that survives on aesthetic appeal. Rather than spending thousands of dollars on equipment and teaching yourself to become a photographer, hire a professional who can shoot and edit high-quality shots for your business. It is a good idea to be somewhat familiar with the process, like taking photos of the job process on a smart phone and making basic edits, but do not teach yourself an entirely new skill when a professional can efficiently and successfully do it in a fraction of the time.
- Design: Many homeowners expect to see a 3D landscape design before confirming the installation of any outdoor living project. If there is no existing team member who can design accurate and elegant 3D landscape presentations, work with someone who can. Many landscape contractors partner with certified landscape designers or landscape architects. Partnering with a professional who can create stunning design plans helps contractors produce installations without having to own the process in-house.
- Bookkeeping & Accounting: Running the entirety of a business and managing the books leaves little free time for yourself or to spend with loved ones. If you are not a trained accountant, dealing with the specifics of accounting can be risky and result in severe miscalculations, or even legal problems down the road. Focus on the core necessities of your business, and leave the bookkeeping and accounting to a professional.
- Social Media Management: It’s tempting to say, “Everyone has a Facebook page – I can just do this myself.” But managing a variety of social media platforms can be time-consuming and needs to be done right. Outsourcing social media management to a professional ensures that the job is done properly, places your company in front of new eyes, and provides an employer with regained time that can be used for other projects.
Many owners are discovering that focusing on a niche market rather than a myriad of landscape services conserves time and energy – and, ultimately, money.
For example, Jackie Ishimaru-Gachina of Gachina Landscape Management in California has made some drastic changes over the past year, and they have paid off handsomely. Rather than offering a wide range of landscape services, Ishimaru-Gachina refocused more narrowly on the services and customer bases that were bringing in the most business. Ishimaru-Gachina examined the company’s “customer makeup and instructed managers to get rid of unprofitable customers, and doubled-down on sustainability initiatives.” Now her business is concentrated on providing landscape maintenance, irrigation, and sustainable landscaping services. As her business’ top-line revenue grew by nearly half and its employee retention rate hit 95% last year, Jackie now has more time to spend with her family. (Source)
Trying to please all types of customers by offering every landscape service available forces owners to send different crews to different sites for different projects, manage multitudes of equipment, and juggle various, dissimilar customer profiles simultaneously. Save the time and energy: refine customer profiles to those that will be the most profitable, and mold a streamlined service list around those customers’ needs. Then watch as the company becomes noticeably easier to manage, resulting in reduced stress and increased time to breathe.
Many professionals live in fear of technological advancements taking over their jobs and businesses. But fear not: there are many useful technologies available that can help business owners increase productivity and use their time more efficiently.
It is crucial to understand how long each task is taking for crew members to complete. Without this data, it is difficult to create an accurate schedule that clients expect to be maintained.
There are a number of software options that enable both the business owner and crew members to keep accurate time-tracking records. Many such programs have mobile apps available, so that team members can track time while they are on the job. Once averages of task and project times have been established, crew leaders and landscape company owners can design more specific and precise schedules that customers know will be upheld.
Time-tracking is also a great way to discover if all team members are completing projects at the expected rate. If one employee is slowing down an entire project, it may be time to work with them and see what can be done to fix the issue.
Project Management Systems
Organization is key to reducing stress and freeing up time for relaxation. There are a number of project and business management systems designed exclusively for landscape companies. Taking advantage of these systems is a simple way to save time, energy, and money in the long run by organizing your projects, schedules, material orders, equipment needs, and crew members – all in one place. Many offer mobile applications for smart phones so crew members and leaders can receive scheduling and order alerts on the job in real time.
The one thing these systems cannot do, however, is force landscape company owners to stick to their schedules. Once you have implemented useful tools like project management systems, the only way to ensure they will work efficiently is to fully commit to them.
Related Read: Controlling Non-Billable Time
Telecommute to Meetings
People cannot be in two places at once. Sometimes there’s not enough time in the day to be at three different job sites and two client meetings. Telecommuting technology like Skype or Go-to Meeting are excellent platforms that allow business owners to meet with clients digitally, which sends the message that they have not been forgotten. At the same time, telecommuting services enable you to conserve precious time, energy, and fuel costs.
The final factor to increase free time and reduce stress from work is simple, but easy to overlook: employee treatment. Owners need to feel confident when delegating tasks to team members, while team members need to feel confident in their ability to complete those tasks. Going the extra mile to treat employees with respect can help keep the company at a high-functioning level of productivity, saving everyone time and energy. Some ways to do this include:
- Conduct meetings—and listen: Hold regularly-scheduled meetings during which employees can be updated on upcoming projects or feedback provided by customers. During these sessions, the company owner can also solicit feedback from the crew about projects and ideas to increase productivity. Remember to always keep your ears open for good ideas – they can come from any member of the crew.
- Boost morale: According to Harvard Business Review, disengaged employees experience “18% lower productivity…37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents, and 60% more errors and defects.” These are not risks that should be taken lightly on a job site. Schedule company outings to boost morale amongst the team members because engagement with colleagues off the job can do wonders for bolstering engagement on the job.
- Use your employee’s strengths: Discover the unique strengths of your employees, and make an effort to place them on jobs where they are more suited to utilize those strengths. Employees proved to be 8% more productive and six times as engaged when their strengths are being exercised. (Source)
- Retain good employees: Employee retention saves landscape company owners plenty of time and money. Offering perks like flexible hours, time off, workshops, and certifications are all excellent ways to ensure a low turnover rate.
A successful work-life balance may seem like a pipe-dream to many business owners in the landscaping industry, but by making some impactful changes to your business organization, technology, services, and employee treatment, that dream can become a reality.