Sargent's solutions - How to keep your staff onside when drawing up a code of conduct

A formal code of practice for on-site behaviour need not cause offence to staff and it will even be a requisite for winning bigger jobs, Alan Sargent explains.

How can I introduce a code of conduct for my staff without causing offence?

A code of conduct or site etiquette is really a basic requirement for any firm whose staff members come into contact with the public. They should already be familiar with the concept of being polite, smart and helpful, and it should be a simple matter of formalising that fact by issuing an internal memo to be read and noted by all personnel.

You will not be included on a tender list for most landscape architects and garden designers unless you have such formal documentation available. Even if you are not currently working with such professionals, you probably will be one day so your workforce should not be alarmed or offended when you introduce the subject.

Why not start off with perhaps a dozen or so examples of good manners, entitled "site etiquette"? These will be second nature to most people and when produced as a list they will reinforce their existing conduct and settle a few queries from past experience.

Site etiquette

1 Arrive on time, on the due date, unless you have previously advised the client otherwise.
2 Personnel to be clean and tidy, wearing uniform (if supplied), with all PPE as required.
3 Radios and other forms of personal entertainment are prohibited, including earpiece units, due to noise and the safety of the operative and colleagues.
4 All sheds and garages, buildings, etc are not to be entered without the express permission and/or instructions from the client or their agent. Customers’ tools are not to be used without express permission from the client, at their own risk in respect of damage.
5 Personnel may only use those toilet facilities provided by the company or as directed by the client if a toilet facility is designated elsewhere on site. Toilets shall be kept clean at all times, with sufficient cleaners and toilet paper available.
6 Staff will act with proper decorum at all times.
7 Site to be kept clean and tidy at all times, especially at the end of the working day.
8 All equipment and tools shall be cleaned and stored tidily at the end of the working day.
9 Washing down may only take place in a designated area, ensuring that no soil or debris enters the drainage system.
10 Staff may only receive instructions from the company’s representative and should direct
any enquiries from the client to
that representative.
11 Staff to respect the privacy of the customers as far as possible, especially during their leisure activities — for example, swimming or sunbathing.
12 Staff to be mindful of other site users, including the client’s postman and delivery companies, and assist them as far as possible should the need to do so arise — they too, have businesses to run.

Any of these examples may be expanded upon to suit your company, but they will provide you with a general guide.

As you can see, by adopting this code of conduct, a copy of which should be given to the client or their agent, there is nothing here about which any reasonable operative could complain.

Indeed, by ensuring that the customer is made aware of the terms of conduct under which the staff are working, they will not expect to give instructions to the site staff and therefore potentially undermine the contract documents — and the site foreperson may also allude to the code to avoid any potential misunderstandings.

Your company, and therefore your image, is only as good as the staff on site. Some of the horror stories I hear from clients regarding contractors on site are very demoralising.

Staff washing their private cars on company time, using water without permission, blocking drains with cement after washing out the mixer every night for a week, playing football on the lawn, using the children’s playthings, bathing in the swimming pool and hot tub — these and many more misdemeanours invariably cause great friction between the client and the landscaper, simply because there was no site etiquette in place.

Site leader

The smooth running of the site is paramount, therefore it is helpful to have one person in charge. That person should be named and his or her details given to the customer, including mobile phone number as the site foreperson.

The foreperson should also be the site checker, ensuring that materials and equipment, such as skips, arrive in a timely manner and that all materials arrive in the required order, in sufficient quantities and in good condition. If not, they are to be returned and replacements ordered urgently. All delivery notes should be signed and collated. This may call for a small shed or shelter on site to serve as the office.

Site cleanliness is a vital part of site etiquette and even the neatest team sometimes needs direction in ensuring that condition. All the client sees when he or she arrives home is whatever state you have left the job in.

Site etiquette even extends to those working practices that may cause unintended offence. Examples of this might include leaving washing or the spare car covered in brick or cement dust, or dirty windows that were not covered during the day’s operations.

As you can see, site etiquette is much more than simply a list of dos and don’ts — it is a matter of pride.

Alan Sargent is an independent gardens consultant. His latest book, The Landscaper’s Survival Manual, is available from www.alansargent.co.uk.

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