The Disengaged Employee

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How many of you have an employee that’s always on his or her cell phone? Maybe you’ve noticed someone taking a longer than usual lunch break on more than one occasion. We’ve all been there, had that employee. Here’s the thing: they’re not the ones at fault—you are. The young man working for you who seems disenfranchised is that way because he has nothing to look forward to. You, as the leader, haven’t fulfilled your end of the deal. When you see a tech start chasing the shortcut, that’s when you know you’re guilty of not providing them enough opportunities. 

For the first two weeks, new employees crush it. Then, many shop owners start to see a decline in performance. Maybe they begin slacking on SOPs. They’re not producing as many hours as you know he or she is capable of. This isn’t because they’re lazy, it’s because they see no advancement in their future. They start to relax because there’s no point. They show up late, leave early. They’re playing on their cell phone. These are all signs. These employees are choosing immediate pleasure because they don’t know how to voice their frustrations at the fact that there is nowhere for them to go in the shop. If you are not providing opportunities for advancement, you will emotionally lose them and shortly after, physically lose them.  

How do you prevent this from happening? Start from the beginning. When a new employee starts, lay out a career plan in writing. Set benchmarks for getting that person to where he or she would like to be. Set dates for your new employee to hit these benchmarks. Show you’re invested in their future. Set time aside to talk to them. Buy tools for them. Put them through training. Let them know that there is opportunity if they stick around and put the work in. 

If you want to keep your employees highly productive and engaged—and retain them—you need to get them to dream. Remember when you started out? It’s not easy to work in a hot shop in the middle of the summer. But we did it. Why? For the hope of a better future. Employers need to remember this and understand where these young techs are coming from. Rather than getting frustrated and saying, “screw it,” inspire them to get to the next level. 

Think about a part-time job that you had. Did you slack off? Be honest. If you were just in it for the paycheck, you probably didn’t put your all into it. Now, think about how much you busted your butt to get to be a shop owner. You put in the long hours. Made the sacrifices. Why? Because you saw the opportunity. That’s the key. 

The reason that anyone does anything hard is because of the meaning that it has for them—they know that’s something waiting on the other side for them. We, as owners, need to make sure we keep opportunity in front of them. It’s our fault if they check out. Find out what they want to get out of this career. Find out why they got into the auto repair industry in the first place. Where do they want to be and how do you get them there? Figure this out, and you’ll see the employee bounce back to the person that you hired. 


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