Retention vs. Recruiting
Haskett: Over the past few years, the staffing issues facing the commercial snow industry have gone from chronic to acute.

Retention vs. Recruiting

Which is your starting point? The answer may surprise you. Labor guru Fred Haskett points you in the right direction.


EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of a five-part series.

Retention vs. recruiting is the chicken-or-egg conundrum of modern management. And at it's core, this question guides snow contractors on how they should divide their time, as well as how these two actions interact and benefit one another.

The need for acquiring and maintaining a reliable workforce for snow and ice management is critical to success. Over the past few years, the staffing issues facing the commercial snow industry have gone from chronic to acute.


And it is not just the snow industry. The Washington Post recently reported that employers nationwide are grappling with a problem that threatens to stall economic growth:  Vacancies — lots of them. For example:

  • In Maine, the state transportation department is struggling to find snowplow drivers, thanks to the increasingly tight labor market.
  • Texas, too, is dealing with a labor shortage. As the price of oil climbs, drillers are ramping up production, but they need more truckers to haul it.
  • Florida lacks the construction workers to keep up with its housing need.

The U.S. unemployment rate continues to sink, currently at a 49-year low as of August 2019 (3.7 percent), and job seekers are finding work more easily than at any time since the mid-90s. Job openings, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, reached 7.1 million in August 2019.

Snow Industry Reality
Numerous market reports provide data about the size of the professional snow and ice management industry.  Statistics from the 2018 IBIS World Report show the services industry consists of 149,455 companies generating $19 Billion in annual revenue and employing 345, 195 people.

In a recent Industry Survey done by National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), a shortage of good help is cited as the top problem facing member business success in the next three to five years. This is more of a management concern than fuel costs, material price, health insurance costs, or even low-ball competitors.

  • The overall industry average turnover rate among hourly employees is about 50%.
  • 77% of the respondents reported that lack of quality employees was hindering their growth.
  • 70% of the respondents reported having unfilled openings for production employees.

Yet, with all these issues fewer than 50% of snow management companies have an employee recruiting and retention strategy in place. They do not have a people plan.

I believe successful organizations in the next 3 to 5 to 7 years will not be the ones who deliver the best work or produce the best value. Rather, it will be the ones who know how to recruit, on-board, train, promote, and – perhaps, most importantly, retain their best people.

Chicken, Meet Egg
So, which comes first -- retention or recruiting?

I you believe recruiting is the starting point, then you’re wrong. First you need to shut the back door and understand why people are leaving or staying at your organization.

In general, employees leave a company for numerous reasons, including:

  • Their manager
  • No career path
  • Bureaucracy and politics
  • No recognition or rewards                        
  • Meaningless work
  • They feel undervalued

Likewise, there are just as many reasons for why employees stay with a company, including:

  • Paid well
  • Appreciated
  • Listened to
  • Promoted
  • Involved in decisions
  • Mentored
  • Challenged

To retain your best talent your organization must constantly re-recruit internally to re-energize existing employees to solidify their loyalty so they remain committed to your company, just like you would with a job candidate.

Why re-recruit your best talent? Like it or not, they're being contacted or approached by other recruiters and employers looking for great employees. And these employees are because they are more creative, driven, and skilled. Exceptional employees are always looking for more opportunities to make a difference and more ways to master and develop their skills and talents.

As a result, great employees tend to move on when the fire of ambition that burns inside them dies. Re-recruiting and re-investing rekindles the spark by re-energizing and re-engaging them.


Most employers regret losing fantastic employees, especially if they move on to work for a competitor, or possibly even create their own competing businesses. While retaining them probably wouldn't take too much effort, the losses incurred when you lose them can really hurt a company.

Here are some methods to engage and retain the valuable members of your labor pool:

Identify employees at risk. Create a list of employees you want to retain, but who may be at risk of leaving your organization.

Keep your workplace engaging. Regularly remind employees why it's better to work at your company than with a competitor. Communicate the reasons your organization is a great place to work. Conversely, stay abreast of what other employers are offering their employees and enhance your rewards package, culture, and work environment. "Selling" your company should never truly end if you want to keep great employees. You always need an attractive message and an enticing work environment and total rewards package.

Conduct a re-recruiting interview. Otherwise known as a "stay interview," have a meeting to gather information from the employee about what they want, things they like and dislike about their work, their experience at your organization, future career goals, training and development interests, and assignments or responsibilities that may be of interest.

Communicate your desire to retain the employee. Do your people know how much you want them to stay? Like with any external recruit, let them know you want to retain them and consider them an important part of the business. Employees frequently walk away from organizations because they didn't grasp how much they were valued.

Create a retention plan. Develop a company-wide plan to re-recruit and retain employees on an organizational level. This plan should include organizational and human resources strategies designed to keep your best employees. Furthermore, create personalized retention plans should also be developed which meet the needs of individual key employees.

Have your counteroffer ready. Any day now, a great employee of yours could leave. Are you ready? Have you prepared a counteroffer? Better yet, are you presenting your employees with the counteroffer before they actually leave? Engaged employers don't wait for another company to steal their talent. Instead, they match other offers or give employees the better offer first to keep them.

Don’t assume loyalty anymore. Top performers are more like "free agents" in business these days. They know what they're worth and what they are capable of …  and so do your competitors.

The question is, do you?

As Head Harvester, with the Harvest Landscape Consulting Group, Fred Haskett coaches green and white industry owners. He is also a frequent Snow Magazine contributor.