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Keep Employees Engaged

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SHOP STATS: Palatine Shell Service   Location: Palatine, Ill.  Operator: Ronnie and Theodore Appert 

Staff Size: 6  Shop Size: 2,000 square feet

On average, a technician tenure at a shop is usually between three and six years, according to John Wafler, facilitator for Bottom Line Impact Groups and RLO Training. And for service advisors, he says you’re lucky to get five years out of them; if you can, you’re doing quite well for yourself.

Some shops, however, have managed to go above and beyond these numbers. Take Palatine Shell Service in Palatine, Ill., for example. Along with former owner, Ron Appert, sons Ronnie and Theodore have worked in the shop practically their entire lives, and other employees seem to follow suit. The average tenure for employees is between 10–12 years, with the shop’s service manager sticking around for 20 years and a technician for 15 years. But this is a rare sight in the working world.

Shockingly, only 15 percent of employees are engaged with their work, according to a Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace study. Fifteen percent. And in a 2017 HAYS study, it says 81 percent of employees would consider leaving their job. And Wafler says it could be happening for one of two reasons: either a shop owner is not making good hiring decisions, which leads to turnover, or he or she doesn't have a good environment for that employee. And with a poor work environment, Wafler says, it can spread like wildfire; from one employee to the next.

So, how can you tell the signs of an employee about to jump ship, and better yet, make sure it doesn’t get to that point? Wafler and Dave Appert, co-owner of Palatine Shell Service since January, share what you should—and shouldn’t—do to keep your employees for the long haul.

Do: Spot the signs early.

There’s a reason for including the 15 percent engagement statistic above. Wafler says it’s one of the most tell-tale signs of an employee leaving; showing up late and leaving work early, talking or texting more than usual, even going to the bathroom more than they have to.

A change in overall behavior and attitude is another big sign; they get quiet, are grumpy all of the time to the point where you feel like you have to walk around on eggshells, or just don’t seem to care anymore, Wafler says. 

One of the major signs of employee dissatisfaction is something you can actually calculate: job performance. For technicians, shop owners would be able to see a decline in hours of production. For service advisors, on the other hand, a decline in sales and other aspects of their job is a good sign that something is off.

Don’t: Assume compensation is the answer.

One thing that owners immediately like to jump to, thinking it will solve the problem, is compensation. But in reality, Wafler says lack of compensation is probably No. 10 on the list of 10 items that lead to employees disengaging from work. Yes, they may leave your shop for a better paying job, but it’s most likely other factors that the shop owner ignored that was the technician’s breaking point.

Appert heard from a technician that working at a dealership did, in fact, pay technicians  more, but said they were merely treated like a number there, which is one of the reasons that this employee left for Palatine Shell. At Appert’s shop, he said he’s treated more like family.

“One of the biggest things is being keen on treating people how I would have wanted to be treated as an employee,” Appert says.

Do: Show acknowledgement.

“One of the biggest things is just the appreciation and acknowledgement that you’re doing a good job,” Wafler says.

Wafler says whether it’s a little or big accomplishment, recognition from someone you respect is a huge motivator. And when an employee is having thoughts about leaving, this acknowledgement can quickly change his or her mind.

If a shop owner notices the warning signs, the first step is to sit him or her down and talk to him or her about it. Consider taking the employee out of the work environment to chat and let him or her know they have noticed their change in behavior.

Don’t: Close the communication gap.

While acknowledging an employee is the first step, it takes constant effort to keep an employee satisfied.

“Sometimes just talking about it and acknowledging it can bring it back on track, but it wont stay there for long unless you continue to engage with employees,” Wafler says.

If you don’t have open communication in your workplace, it can be hard to keep him or her engaged, even if you do acknowledge when you notice that employee has been off. Wafler says an owner showing he or she cares out of the blue isn’t much help; an employee will think you’re doing it not because he or she is valued, but as a last ditch effort to retain him or her.

Taking a step back, it starts with a bigger picture of the overall environment and culture you’ve developed as an owner and a leader. 

“Work around their issues so they don’t feel trapped and make them feel heard,” Appert says. “They will respect you as an employer.”

Do: Provide more opportunities.

Ongoing communication includes keeping him or her in the loop on shop decisions and including him or her in your decision making, almost like you are engaging employees as a board of directors, Appert says.

And Wafler agrees. He says giving employees bigger responsibilities, leadership opportunities and allowing them to be a factor in the business’s decision making keeps them engaged. Wafler says if you don’t give a challenge to your employees, they’ll end up getting bored and finding a new challenge outside of your business.

For example, it could be as simple as getting employee input on purchasing a new piece of equipment. In turn, it will make the equipment last longer. Why? Because they were a part of the decision, employees will take better care of it.

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