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Improve Employee Engagement

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I’ll always remember my first day at Randy’s Service Station. It was the spring of 1976. I was a young mechanic, eager to learn and get my hands dirty. Randy took me aside and said, “There are three ways of doing things around here: the right way, the wrong way and my way. Follow the third way and we’ll get along just fine.” It might not have been what I wanted to hear, but if you were from my generation, a baby boomer, you didn’t question it. You were focused on your work and the boss. … Well, he was the boss.  

Today, the nation’s workforce is comprised of multiple generations, with the millennial generation becoming the dominate force by 2025. Sadly, according to a recent Gallup poll, less than one-third of the total American workforce today is truly engaged at their jobs. Engagement is defined by those employees that are truly passionate about their careers and are dedicated to the success of the company for which they work. Poor worker engagement leads to higher turnover, lower production, poor quality work and poor customer service, which all ultimately results in lower profits.   

As shop owners, we are all faced with the same dilemma: how to improve employee engagement in order to run a successful, more profitable business.  

There are two main reasons for poor employee engagement: It’s either due to poor leadership or you have the wrong employees. You, the shop owner, are no different from the coach of a professional ball team. Fancy stadiums don’t win championships; great players and great coaching do. Assembling a team of superstars must be one of your top priorities. Since the success of your shop rests on your shoulders, this article primarily deals with you, the shop owner. It’s important to recognize the reasons for poor employee engagement and ways to improve it. 

Lack of engagement occurs when employees don’t understand the vision and the mission of the company for which they work. It’s when work becomes nothing more than a job. It’s when the work your employees perform is not meaningful or rewarding to them. Your employees may be showing up on time, and doing their assigned tasks, but if they aren’t truly engaged, long-term team success will be difficult to achieve. If your employees are watching the clock all day and can’t wait for 5 p.m. to arrive, you better get a handle on what’s happening. 

Employee engagement all starts with leadership. Everyone is watching the boss. You may not think they are, but trust me, they can read you like a book. Your demeanor sets the tone for the entire shop. The shop owner’s attitude has as much to do with the success of the company as any skill he or she possesses.  

As the leader, you must communicate a strong, positive vision of the future. You also need to set clear expectations for your employees and hold them accountable by recognizing their accomplishments and giving them feedback on their performance. 

Leaders must promote the team concept. We are all social creatures; we need to interact with others around us, and we also need to feel we contribute to the success of the group. If our work goes unnoticed or unappreciated, feelings of isolation sets in, which separates us from the group and dismantles any hope of building relationships. Strong relationships build team spirit. With high team spirit, the entire shop benefits. When people care about each other, they perform better because they don’t want to let their teammates down. 

Lastly, don’t micromanage. Give employees discretion in how they do their work. Micromanagement is nothing more than interfering, which leads to worker stress. And stress leads to anxiety, which hurts morale. It also sends a message that you don’t have trust in your employees to do the job they were hired for. If your employees think you don’t trust them, they will certainty not trust you or any message you convey to them. 

I’ll never know if Randy really meant what he said on my first day or if he was joking. But he did teach me a few lessons on employee engagement. Each morning around 9 a.m., Randy would run to the diner and buy everyone coffee. We would gather around his toolbox as he told us stories about the Great Depression, serving in World War II and his early days as a mechanic. He would always mentor us, teaching us the tricks of the trade. Whatever we needed, he was there to help. Randy always had our backs, and our high production was proof we appreciated it. Randy may have been old school, but in some ways, he was years ahead of his time. 

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