Building a Winning Company Culture
NPMA members share best practices for boosting employee engagement
At Big Time Pest Control in Anderson, Calif., the Fun Committee continues to deliver good times, and employees can’t wait to hear about the next big event.
A handful of the company’s 45 employees make up the Fun Committee, which organizes quarterly events for workers and their families meant to boost morale and build camaraderie. Big Time Pest Control recently held a Christmas party featuring food, a live DJ, a photo booth and plenty of door prizes for attendees.
Last summer, the company rented out a local waterpark for the evening after it had closed to the general public, allowing workers and their families to skip the long lines for the park’s most popular attractions. Other events have included a barbecue and outdoor screening of “The Princess Bride” at a local park and renting out a local roller-skating rink.
“We try to do something every quarter,” said Mike Bullert, president and chief executive of Big Time Pest Control, which is opening a second office location in Northern California this year.
“It’s an opportunity to connect not just with our employees but with their families after hours and build more of a team environment,” he added. “It’s hard to get good, quality employees, so when we get them, we want to hang onto them, and creating a good company culture is a big part of that.”
On the opposite coast, American Pest is taking a similar approach to employee engagement. In early December, the Fulton, Md.-based company had already outlined its entire event calendar for 2024, featuring summer barbecues at the company’s five branch locations and team breakfasts at local restaurants.
President Kevin Poland said planning the event calendar months in advance helps him to get face time periodically with each of American Pest’s approximately 375 employees, and it gives workers events to look forward to. The company wants employees to feel valued, so Poland makes it a point to don a chef’s apron and grill the burgers himself.
“We do offsite events for different parts of our organization where we’re dedicating time for bonding and camaraderie to build our culture, so it’s not just focused around work,” Poland said. “When you’re focused on bringing people together rather than just the actual work tasks at hand, those are the events that we see more long-term benefits from.”
Denise G. Aranoff, vice president of marketing at American Pest, said the segmented nature of pest control—with technicians on the road and the company’s different departments working independently—can lead some teams to view the business as “us vs. them.” But by bringing teams together socially, the company helps employees to put faces with names, leading to more positive workplace interactions.
“When you’re physically in the same space, there’s a level of trust and engagement that isn’t there when you’re just using technology to chat with each other,” she said. “Coming out of the pandemic, people feel disconnected in general, so any time we can bring people together, it helps to establish those connections.”
Pest control can be demanding, with technicians waking up early to cover vast distances on their routes, so American Pest plans most of its team-building events for working hours. In the past, events planned for evenings or weekends drew the same small groups of employees instead of bringing large numbers of employees together, Aranoff said.
So precious are those weekend hours that employees have even let free tickets to professional and collegiate sporting events go unclaimed, she added.
The right types of off-hours events can prove popular with employees, however. All-American Pest Control, with about 65 employees spread across four locations in Tennessee, established a calendar of events for employees and their families as a way to stay connected during COVID-19, according to CEO Erin Richardson.
Company-sponsored events have included a zoo visit, navigating an escape room, competing at Topgolf and “playing tourist in our town for a day,” she said. In 2024, the company is adding community service to its events calendar, with employees getting together to volunteer at local nonprofits.
Whether the events are purely recreational or involve giving back, they “have the same purpose of relationship-building through fun, memorable activities outside of work,” Richardson said.
We try to do something every quarter. It's an OPPORTUNITY TO CONNECT NOT JUST WITH OUR EMPLOYEES BUT WITH THEIR FAMILIES after hours and build more of a team environment.
-Mike Bullert, President and Chief Executive, Big Time Pest Control
Across the country, NPMA members are taking a multipronged approach to employee engagement. Here are some of their strategies:
1. Hire and promote based on people skills.
Richardson said middle management is the “heartbeat of company culture,” and daily interactions between supervisors and their teams can determine whether a company succeeds. That’s why All-American promotes team members based on their people skills instead of their pest-control skills, rewarding workers who display teamwork and professionalism, she said.
“All leadership roles’ first obsession should be team experience,” Richardson said. “We train on communication skills, follow-through, seeking first to understand, coaching, giving and receiving
quality feedback, growth mindset, celebrating progress and other key people skills that create a great place to work.”
Bullert said Big Time Pest Control tries to make employees feel valued right from the start by giving them a welcome bag that includes a company-branded lunchbox, coffee mug, notepad and other useful items. On their first day, new hires spend time in the field with an experienced employee in the same role, kickstarting the training process and making onboarding smoother, he said.
2. Incentivize employees.
Big Time Pest Control’s team-building efforts have taken on an international flavor. The company is sending seven of its top performers, including technicians and administrative staffers, on a four-day vacation to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The trip marks the third year of Big Time’s Award of Excellence program, which rewards employees for hitting key performance benchmarks, Bullert said.
In the past, employees also have brought home steaks and sausages from the company’s support of junior livestock auctions, he added.
3. Create an inviting workplace.
Since employees spend so much time on the job, the little things matter. Bullert said Big Time Pest Control has various types of music streaming in its office, creating an upbeat working environment.
Although technicians aren’t obligated to come into the office, anyone who shows up on Tuesdays gets a free lunch, he said. The company shuts off the phones for an hour so employees can talk about what’s going on at the company and get to know each other better.
There’s also a robust snack bar and refrigerator featuring instant soup, protein bars, granola bars, beef jerky, popcorn, bottled water and energy drinks, allowing workers to skip the convenience store and save some money, Bullert said.
“If someone needed to, they could make a meal out of what we have here, and our employees appreciate that,” he said.
4. Celebrate success.
Once a month, Big Time holds a meeting at a hotel conference room to update employees on company initiatives and cover training topics. Employees receive acknowledgement and gift cards for birthdays, work anniversaries and accomplishments such as meeting production standards and becoming associate certified entomologists.
A GPS system in technicians’ vehicles monitors their driving habits, so the company’s safest drivers also are acknowledged. In addition, positive feedback from customers is read aloud to the group, celebrating those team members who have provided exemplary customer service, Bullert said.
Company meetings also include fun components such as movie and pop-culture trivia, with teams of employees competing for points. At the end of the year, the team with the most points gets an extra vacation day, adding an element of gamification to company meetings that otherwise might be bland.
“We try to make our meetings fun and exciting,” Bullert said. “It gets people from different departments working together as a team.”
Similarly, All-American Pest Control established a Kudos Program in which positive feedback from customers and fellow employees is shared throughout the company. Kudos can be converted into company merchandise and gift cards, Richardson said.
“This program has fostered a culture of appreciation where acknowledging each other’s efforts has become ingrained in the company’s DNA,” she said.
5. Identify emerging leaders.
Career development is key to employee retention, so Big Time recently started a program called Catalyst aimed at nurturing its top performers. Eight top contributors who have expressed interest in career advancement were selected for the initial six-month program, which involves monthly meetings designed to broaden their skillset and increase their understanding of the business, Bullert said.
Topics covered have included personal development, creating your personal brand and professional image and creating value for customers.
“We’re growing, so we’re really focused on identifying ways to get people to buy in and see this as a career and not just a job,” Bullert said. “By doing that, hopefully they’ll give us a second look and stay with us if they have an opportunity to go somewhere else for a dollar an hour more.”
6. Solicit employee feedback.
To boost employee retention, American Pest surveys employees at least once a year to gauge their job satisfaction and identify areas for improvement, Aranoff said. One main goal is to increase the percentage of employees who feel that American Pest is a great place to work—one that they’d recommend to a friend—since employee referrals are an important part of recruitment.
Employees are asked about their workload, relationships with their coworkers, the level of support they receive from management and whether they have the right tools and training to be effective at their jobs, Poland said. One takeaway from the surveys was that employees want to know how the company is doing and what new initiatives it’s working on, so Poland has begun holding virtual meetings each month to keep the team updated on important developments.
“We’ve gotten a lot of candor and good feedback from those surveys, which has been great,” he said. “It’s all about being intentional and making sure you connect with your employees on a regular basis. If you come up with a sound plan, communicate what that plan is and execute on that plan, you can get more buy-in and create a company culture that employees want to be a part of.”