Question: Hiring good employees is hard enough, but given the physical challenges of our industry, what can I do to help retain employees by making their lives a little easier?
— Hoping Employees Always Like to Have Youthfulness
Answer: Great question, HEALTHY. Everyone is familiar with the adage “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” By and large, we embrace that philosophy as an industry. We train and educate our employees on practical entomology, application techniques, rules and regulations, and equipment maintenance.
But what about the maintenance of their most important piece of equipment: their bodies? One of the biggest complaints I have heard over the years is how physically demanding professional pest management is, and it’s a valid point.
Most companies tend to hire just before the busy season starts, often bringing in people without experience into a physically demanding career. After a long, hot, busy summer, many of those new hires leave for greener pastures. The constant churn of employees makes it hard for companies to grow an experienced base of field staff, and can lead to an inconsistent customer experience.
I think the opportunity we have here is to look at our industry as an endurance sport. Let’s give our employees the tools to prepare their bodies for the physical demands by improving their nutrition state.
To take a deeper look at sports nutrition, I contacted my friend and colleague, Reilly Beatty, MS, RD, CSSD. She is a board-certified sports dietitian, and the owner of Reilly Beatty Sports Nutrition. What follows is her guidance for our industry on how to properly prepare and sustain our bodies for the nutritional demands we face.
Because summer is the busiest time of the year, it’s doubtful that many employees will have the time — or energy — to build new nutrition habits. Taking some time to practice this spring will set them up for success. Here are three nutrition-related steps your team can start taking today in preparation for this summer:
- Start with breakfast. A proper fueling breakfast should contain about 20 to 30 grams of protein, including 1 cup of “color” (fruits or veggies) and 0.5 to 1 cup of whole grains (oatmeal, one or two slices of whole wheat bread). A sample breakfast would be two hard-boiled eggs, one container of Greek yogurt with berries, and 0.5 cup of Honey Nut Cheerios with 1 tablespoon of almonds on top.If you aren’t used to eating breakfast, you can start practicing now by training your gut to fuel in the morning. The stomach/small intestine is a muscle; it can be trained like the body’s skeletal muscle. Start off small, and slowly build up.
- Stay out of the fast food drive-thru lane. You can’t control everything that happens in the field, but you can control what you eat before you start the job, what snacks you pack, and how to approach nutrition that day.Pack a cooler with snacks like cheese sticks, fruit, sliced veggies, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or yogurt. Keeping shelf-stable snacks like pretzels, beef jerky, applesauce, dried fruit or pistachios in the truck will ensure energy levels stay high. Incorporate re-fueling stops every three to four hours.
- Incorporate electrolyte-rich snacks throughout the day. The two main components of sweat are water and sodium. Sodium is most commonly found in salt. For every 2 pounds of sweat lost, 1,000 milligrams of sodium are lost. That’s a lot of sodium! Thus, incorporating salty snacks like pickles, pickled veggies, pretzels, tortilla chips and soy sauce on hotter days will help with fatigue, cognitive function and energy levels. Fun fact: One dill pickle has the same amount of sodium, aka electrolytes, as a bottle of Gatorade.
Although sweat rates are not as high in cold weather, hydration is still a priority. At just 2 percent dehydration, you will see a drop in performance, cognitive function and focus. An easy guide to understand 2 percent dehydration is chapped lips: When your lips become chapped, you have hit that performance-affecting dehydration point.
Incorporating some of the salty snacks mentioned above will help stimulate thirst and keep you hydrated. Also during the winter months, opt for warm beverages like decaf coffee, tea, bone broth or hot cocoa to keep you hydrated and warm. On extremely cold days, try to incorporate at least two warm drinks throughout the day to keep your body temperature high, stay hydrated and allow for proper functioning.
Additionally, continue to eat every three to four hours, even if you aren’t hungry, to maximize the thermic effect of food (TEF). TEF increases your metabolism and keeps core body temperature regulated on cold winter days. Snacks containing energy-rich carbohydrates — crackers, tortillas — and protein — beef jerky, cheese sticks, pistachios — are best.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
Proper fueling and correct nutrition do not have to be complicated. The basics work, and will make a big impact on your energy, body composition and performance in the field.
If you are new to fueling, aim for three to four meals per day. You want to rotate between meals and snacks. Your meals should be broken down into one-third grains and starches, one-third protein, and one-third color (fruit and veggies). This is Reilly’s recommendation on where to start.
After you have meals down, add in two to three snacks throughout the day. You will want to combine a “color” with a protein in snacks.
Readers can feel free to email Reilly at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Thank you, Reilly, for these tasty tidbits. We know we must do more to attract and keep high-quality team members. Sensible routing, realistic production expectations, outstanding pay and benefits are great places to start. But providing access to services and information that will help set employees up for success will encourage them to want to stay in our amazing and essential industry. A healthy diet allows our bodies to handle stress, ward off disease, work more easily, and lead more comfortable, more productive lives both at home and at work.