Not enough hands on deck - How the employee shortage has affected us
Thursday, March 9, 2023
Every where you go whether here or abroad, there is a shortage of workers.
This is a hot topic of discussion around many kitchen tables, and there is often heated discussion when attempting to reason the 'why'.
Some people feel that this is due to Covid-19 directly, but personally I feel the events around Covid were merely a catalyst for a trend that was already on the horizon. The regulations that came into place with Covid introduced a new way of survival for the human race, one that involved not leaving home and potentially supplemental support from the government. It also encouraged our workforce to work from home, and although restrictions have fallen away, this had become a much more comfortable environment for working; who can blame them for not wanting to come back to the office? If I could work from home, I know I would be sorely tempted - but I suspect the menagerie at home would distract me too much if I did it too often!
Some feel that the shortage of employees is due to the rising cost of living and a stagnant pay scale. Factors such as housing/rental prices, grocery costs, fuel and child care certainly play into this.
Regardless of the reasoning behind the lack of employees, there is no argument that it has hobbled the service industry - including our own landscape services.
Now, I am proud to say that the wages we are paid here are (in my opinion, having worked in many different sectors from veterinary, to retail, to agriculture) phenomenal. Our bosses are also reasonable people who are approachable and genuinely want their employees to do well and be happy. [Note that at the time of writing this I am alone in the office and am under no coerceion, these are just my personal opinions] The work we do can be arduous and tiring, wear hard on clothes and muscles/skin, but staff are encouraged to take their time, rest as much as needed, and reach out if they require help or guidance. On hot Summer days, we call it quits if the temperature is too high. In the Winter, trucks can be warmed and rest breaks to a nearby Tim Hortons for a hot drink are expected. There is no penalty for being smart about your health and safety. If you need help ensuring you have appropriate clothing for the task at hand, you are encouraged to ask - we got you.
However, there is no way about it: we lack employees.
This Winter in particular we have been struck by the shortage of employees. We have not had sufficient team members to satisfactorily (especially not to Jody's expectation levels) meet our responsibilities for snow removal. We have to prioritize our property lists, and sadly we just have not had enough people to be able to complete our total lists in an ideal time frame.
This is frustrating on SO many levels. We hate disappointing our customers. We hate not completing the tasks how we plan to. We hate wanting to go out and do more work, but our bodies tell us we just can't - exhaustion is a heavy handed guide. This is not how we like our business to run.
But, it seems to take a very specific type of person to choose this field as a career. Love of the outdoors is a must. Hard work ethic. Flexibilty is a bonus, as sometimes we work odd hours or long/short days. You must also be ready to jump in to any level of task without fear of damaging your ego - we are a team, and sometimes your team members need you help with a task you don't normally do. We are lucky that the core group we have adhere to these traits; now, if only we could find more.
Jody is always looking to hire more talent, and our door is always open to those who think this may be something they could do.
With a snow event on the horizon for tomorrow, we will be putting all hadns on deck - it's just a shame that the deck is so large and the number of crew members too small. Ah well, as the US Navy Seals say, “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday”.
For some reason, this week is striking us as COLD. Although the temperatures are not registering as abnormally cold, the damp grey air seemed to sink into our bones. Walking Jody's dog Wolf (the office mascot most days) to the mailbox to mail some documents, caused teeth to chatter and goosebumps to rise.
This led to checking the heat in the office, a hot cup of tea, and sweet-talking to the little electric heater under the desk.
The majority of the day was worked through without much further complaint, mind the warmth from further cups of tea and a heated microwave lunch were gratefully cradled in cold hands.
The afternoon is now wrapping to a close and on its heels are thoughts of further warmth to be garnered from dinner, blankets, hot drinks and perhaps movie watching. A Google search for Winter recipes leads to an American chef known as "The Pioneer Woman" and her 45 Easy Winter Dinner Ideas. This gave an almost overwhelming list of options, but the lack of desire to go shopping led to further searching. A general thought to stay Canadian led to a reliable source: Canadian Living. They offered up 29 Recipes to Get You Excited About Cold Winter Evenings. We also dug up the website of a favoured chef, Michael Smith - sadly, his site does not specify Winter meals, but it is still a good resource. Finally, our search yielded a smaller site and publication, Eat Magazine and their Winter Recipes From Local Chefs.
If only our office had a proper kitchen - maybe we would start a quest similar to the movie Julie and Julia, and cook our way through our found recipes. Instead, we can only hope our energy lasts until we get home and we can make a proper Wintery dinner.
This has to be one of the strangest Winters that we have experienced. We are seeing Facebook memories of snow on the ground, our bodies are twitching with muscle memory of shoveling and cold -- and yet, we are plugging away at Fall clean ups and counting rain days.
Mind you, we are not complaining, it is just a bit confusing to our systems.
We have our snow client lists complete (and full), our trucks are oil sprayed, the plows repaired, and the shop bay has a mountain of salt at the ready! However, it is nice to be able to sleep through the night and not wake every couple hours to check the forecast and perhaps jump into our snow pants to madly clear a sudden squall.
But time is flying! We cannot believe that the count down to Christmas and Hannukah is on, deadlines for year end are approaching, and... we certainly feel unprepared. With all our concern over the weather and being ready to clear roads, parking lots, driveways and sidewalks, it feels as though we have forgotten about the life outside of work. As we have previously mentioned, Jody himself is very focused on his customers and meeting their needs - he is just lucky to have his wonderful wife Celia to help provide a bit of balance and reminder of his other joys (including their two children). Thanks to Celia, Jody is not as behind on being prepared for the holiday season as he perhaps would be if left to his own devices. Phew.
Not sure what we can say about the rest of our staff...
Katie certainly feels unprepared. There is a test for her pesticide license on the horizon and she is still madly trying to get through the second manual - the sand is running out of the hourglass! All the holidays can wait until after this is off the docket.
Donna seems fairly ready, plans have been made with her family members. The schedules for the kids are known and accounted for. She's got this.
Chris is looking forward to the time with his adorable daughter, and already has plans for spoiling her rotten - he is prepped.
Jeremy is super chill about the whole affair. He knows the routine, knows where he has to be when, has already started prepping for the family shindigs. Surprisingly (sorry Jerm) he seems to be on target.
We know the rest of the team are looking forward to a break from the madness. Time to recoup, recharge, and get ready for the next season. We are grateful to our customers who rely on us to look after their properties - and we know they understand how much energy goes into our services.
So for now... we stand at the ready and wait. See what Winter throws at us next.
We are excited this week! We are into the last stretch for our Fiesta applications - getting them done before the leaves fall. This heavy iron supplement spray is a safe herbicide that attacks primarily broadleaf weeds (such as dandelions, plantains, and clover). As we discussed in previous blog posts, this all falls under the cosmetic lawn care practices - although these weeds are harmless, they are undersirable in most communities. The crab grass seems to be subsiding, but clover is definitely taking up the slack. Thankfully, Fiesta seems to hit clover decently, so we should be able to beat it back. (Katie will have it noted that she is a fan of clover, especially as part of a pasture mix and its natural Nitrogen fixating properties for soil health)
Our teams have also been busy applying granular fertilizer; again, our goal is to get it all done before the leaves fall! The early frost was a surprise for us, and we are glad we have gotten our seeding done - seed needs warmth to germinate. The cooler temperatures, although refreshing, warn us again that the clock is ticking until the snow comes.
The employment shortage has had an impact on us, and we are still hoping to hire some crew members for the snow season - those that are willing and able to shovel snow would be very welcome to work for the Winter. We will be pulling all our team members that we can into the cold this coming Winter, and unfortunately not all of it is done from the warmth of the interior of a snow plow -- but still! Needs must! We know the demand for snow removal is huge, with a lot of other companies being unable to survive Covid impacts, so we will do what it takes to provide services for our customers. We are not able to take on new residential customers however, as we must reserve ourselves for current clientele. We apologize for this disappointment, but hope everyone understands we must be loyal and not overstretch ourselves.
Normally this time of year we are in a panic to gear up for spring. We might have spent our winter plowing snow or enjoying some seasonal down time with fewer hours in the office. But when spring hits, we find ourselves overwhelmed with phone calls, taking orders and running around quoting properties, barely keeping up with spring. This year we're completely prepared and very excited about what is happening at JLC. In between some ice storms and snowy weather we've been busy prepping for spring. Long hours in the office and shop where we have been servicing all our machines and vehicles, and working on advertising and promoting our company. Our electronic quoting system and dispatching program is now familiar and we have become faster and more technologically advanced with the software. So getting out those early bird specials are only click of a button away!
But most of all we are excited about our NEW LOGO and NEW WEBSITE. Thanks to REM web solutions we've had a great team behind us helping to brand our company into some new, fresh, clean, and smart. As many of you know, we expanded our Norfolk County division a few years ago into one that includes the Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo. This new look is giving us a cutting edge and helping us to attract and fit into this new culture. But at the same time, it shows our long appreciated clientele of Norfolk that we are always growing and improving our company to better serve the community.
The website allows you to contact us directly from your phone or computer. You can request a quote, and accept a proposal electronically. You can see some of our recent works and let us know how we are doing. Check it out- stay a while on the site! We are proud of it and excited about the new look of JLC.