Tony and Jason Batallan are co-owners of Property Works, Inc., of West Palm Beach, Florida. They had a very frustrating employee problem. Their company had grown consistently as they added commercial and government lawn maintenance contracts. But with more work, their company (and customers) was suffering from an “endless revolving door” of employee turnover.

Tony and Jason aren’t alone in the fight to retain good employees.

There’s aggressive competition for employees from an expanding construction market and higher paying trades. If that’s not enough, technology used in the employee hiring process today is changing and confusing the heck out of landscape operators. And then there are these young people. It almost seems like people have become lazy, and feel entitled to high-paying jobs with “work when you want” schedules.

Tony Batallan explains, “When we heard Tony Bass explain his strategy to provide benefits to all employees, even laborers, I looked at Jason and said, ‘This guy is nuts!’ But then, he explained how we could recover the costs of the benefit program in our pricing system. So, benefits like paid time off really wouldn’t take money out of our pockets. Then we said, ‘He may be onto something here. Let’s give it a try.’” It’s a fact that almost any employer can greatly improve employee retention.

Innovative recruiting system

Employee retention begins during recruitment. So, improving your recruiting system is Step One. To enhance your recruiting, you should run ads, post job openings and ask for employment referrals. But most landscape employers make a series of time-consuming and often fatal retention mistakes within their employment ads.

The first mistake is: “advertising for experience.” Turns out, when you advertise with an ad like “Experienced Lawn Maintenance Crew Leader Needed,” you are limiting your future employment prospects to just two specific groups of people: 1) gainfully employed people in the industry or 2) people who have worked in the industry but have been removed from employment for a variety of reasons.

In case one, attempting to lure gainfully employed “experienced” help usually requires you to create an incentive for a job change, such as higher pay or better benefits. Bidding up the cost of external hires raises your costs of doing business the day the new guy starts. Within a few weeks, you’ll hear current employees asking for raises so their pay rates are in line with the “experienced” guy.

In the second case, you advertise for “experience” and find someone who was released from a competitor’s company. You’re delighted with the idea that you’ve found someone who has “experience.” In the interview, you hear words like, “I deserve higher pay,” or “I’m worth more, with all my experience.” You bring him in to your company. A few weeks later, you learn the reason he left your competitor. He can’t get along with his coworkers, he has a serious problem with tardiness, or he already knows it all and can’t follow simple rules.

Here’s the better approach. Adjust your advertising to recruit a variety of candidates for each open position. For example, a job-opening ad headline like “Fresh Start—Working Outdoors” will lure a much wider group of prospects. You’ll meet prospects who are sick and tired of their current work situations, employed, unemployed, retired, underemployed or looking to get back into the workforce. Forget ‘experience’; I want you to find a prospect who is coachable and much more flexible about starting pay.

When you use targeted headlines that attract employment prospects outside of the category of ‘experienced,’ you’ll immediately collect dozens, if not hundreds, of additional applicants. This is a blessing if you need more help. The more prospects you have, the more likely you’ll find the perfect candidate at a price you can afford.

Automated screening system

Ordinary job advertisements ask for interested candidates to send in a resumé, call to schedule an interview, come in to complete an application or apply online. Any of these requested actions creates time-consuming work for you to further process the applicant. We suggest a new approach.

Your automated screening system places ads that instruct prospects to complete a series of self-screening activities. We recommend that you invite interested job candidates to simply call in and listen to a Job Information Hotline that explains the top five to ten reasons they would love working at your company.

Your message must be truthful. So, after you explain all the great things about working in your company, you’d better go ahead and explain the three to five reasons a person should not apply at your company. If your company policy includes pre-employment drug screening for everyone, share this in your message. Brutal honesty in the automated screening process stops time-wasting interviews, prevents bad hires, and lets the good people know they’re safe to apply at your firm.

Near the end of the recorded message, invite interested and pre-qualified candidates to call your office between 12 noon and 1 p.m. for a quick ten-minute phone interview. By creating a series of pre-employment instructions, only highly interested and well-qualified applicants will apply.

Failure to follow pre-employment instructions is a great indicator that a prospect won’t follow your instructions after they are hired. Why wait to discover this? The right pre-employment screening system will identify the lazy and unreliable, those who can’t follow simple written instructions.

A creative retention plan

Tony Batallan says, “You can’t change people that much. Many will always have personal issues. Some just don’t give a crap! So you’d better change yourself, or your company.” The brothers Batallan changed their company policy and started providing paid time off for all employees. This helped improve retention. But benefits are not the only answer. People must enjoy their jobs and feel like they are being respected by their employer.

Today, Tony and Jason are doing things much differently at Property Works. Friday is pizza day. When the crews return after a long week, they are greeted with personal “Thanks,” from owners and managers. Lots of pizzas and cold drinks are shared. They now schedule an annual Christmas party and pig roast. The Batallan brothers buy huge chests of Cuban cigars and share them with the team. This giving spirit has made a positive impact.

Tony and Jason reward good behavior with unannounced, small cash bonuses when they catch someone doing something good. Examples include handing out $20 bills when they see someone picking up trash without being told, showing up on time on a rainy day or after a week of perfect attendance. Note that the pat on the back, and the words “I appreciate you” coming from the boss, helps build positive morale.

Requests for raises seemed like a daily ritual at Property Works in the past. The Batallan brothers have now implemented a new policy of posting pay raises based on education, certification and license acquisition.

Tony Batallan shares, “We used to get hammered with guys asking for a dollar-an-hour raise. Today, everybody knows that if they get their CDL, a certification or attend English language classes, they can get a $1 raise or more. For others, we give out much smaller raises, such as 10 to 25 cents an hour. We had not considered giving small raises in the past. But it has really helped.”

Tony Batallan adds, “But know, up-front, not everybody is going to appreciate your efforts. Ignore the bad attitudes and those who don’t want to play your game. Your persistence will win over the best employees. Those are the ones you want to keep anyway!”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Tony Bass is co-author of The E-Myth Landscape Contractor. If you’d like to learn more, visit You can watch a short video or listen to a podcast and learn how leading lawn & landscape companies are attracting the best candidates and automatically kicking the lazy and unreliable candidates to the curb.