Are You a Bank or a Landscape Company?

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.


A business owner from Wisconsin was talking with me the other day about his company’s human resources program.  Imagine that!   The astute business owner had myriad success stories to share with me:  solid employee staffing and retention numbers, a strong safety program, an impressive training system, and an open communication process that allowed his management team to stay connected with the field employees and by the same token, kept his field employees engaged with management staff.

Humbled by his ongoing success, the business owner openly expressed emotional gratitude for the positive results his team had achieved and sustained.  Great job!

With the passage of time, the conversation naturally flowed toward employee compensation.  Given his previous comments regarding the high rates of field employee retention, I had considered compensation inconsequential to the larger discourse.  Not exactly, Steve.

By way of corollary, the owner leveraged compensation to address a topic that every landscaper knows all too well:  employee loans.

Though not a significant problem at this time, the sage business owner commented that “every now and again” an employee may reach out to him for some transition money to bridge an unforeseen shortfall in the employee’s life:  plumbing repair, new brakes for the family car, a child’s expenses, etc.  

Let’s not be naïve, in today’s dire economy, these requests occur more frequently than we want to believe:  borrowing money from co-workers, getting a cash advance on a credit card, and even hoping to get “a little help” from the owner.

It happens.  We all have been there.  It will continue to happen.

While stated with veiled jocularity to conceal intended admonition, I asked the business owner a simple question: “Are you a bank or a landscape company?”

I saw his eyes blink wistfully.

He knows it.  I know it.  You know it.

While acknowledging his impressive company success, premised extensively on an admirable organizational culture he has deftly nurtured, I waxed prescient for him to consider the possibilities that his episodic generosity can quickly evolve into a precedent standard, rife with potential requests from many other employees, access to the need for greater sums of money, and the near certainty for inevitably-contrived employee claims levied upon refusal:  discrimination, microaggression, retaliation, etc.  

Similarly, I highlighted myriad procedural complications once it becomes common knowledge that employees can get “a little help” from the owner.  Issues like:   tracking how much money has been “loaned” to a growing number of employees, the timeline and manner of the payback schedules, state minimum wage laws, signing promissory notes, potential interest rate charges, employees resigning or being terminated before the entire “loan” has been repaid typically leading to litigation in small claims court, and most of all, its impact on the company culture once the spigot is inevitably restricted or shut off completely.  

Benevolence, charity, and altruism are increasingly rare in today’s society.  Try and tell me that someone has not asked you for money, time, or a “favor” in the past two weeks.  Oftentimes, that which is initially given as a gift quickly becomes an expectation, then interpreted as an entitlement, followed by demand.

Treat your employees well.  Remain rapt with charity.  Support your company culture.  With stated interest:  Be careful, simple, and otherwise.

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.