Bunch: Managing Burnout

July 17, 2023
In the high-stress, high-demand world of auto repair, it's essential for shop owners to recognize the signs of burnout in themselves and their teams.

I hope everyone is having a great summer! A time of outdoors and fun in the sun, right? Not necessarily. I understand all too well the challenges and pressures of our industry, especially during the summer. Recently, one of my senior managers opened up about feeling completely burned out, which hit home for me. You see, I've always been something of a workaholic, largely due to my dad’s influence. He worked in agriculture, where six-day work weeks were the norm, and that's the work ethic I grew up witnessing. This manager is the same way; we try to hold each other accountable for unplugging, but sometimes it’s the blind leading the blind. 

When I was a teenager, my dad suffered symptoms that seemed like a mini-stroke. His dedication to work had driven him to the hospital—a reminder that while passion for work is commendable, recognizing our limits is crucial. As shop owners, we need to recognize these boundaries, not just for ourselves but for our team members as well. Fortunately, he completely recovered, and we celebrated his 89th birthday in March. 

Recognizing Burnout

Burnout is a silent thief that robs us of our energy, connection with our work and satisfaction. It's important for us as shop owners to identify these signs, both in ourselves and in our team: 

  • Exhaustion: A deep-seated fatigue that interferes with our ability to carry out even the most basic tasks. 
  • Detachment: A mental and emotional distance from work, often paired with cynicism about its significance, we are working to work, losing track of our “Why” 
  • Inefficiency: A decline in productivity and satisfaction with our jobs. 

These signs are particularly noticeable in people who share our commitment to their work, such as our master technicians, advisors and store managers. 

Addressing the Root Causes

In our line of work, burnout often stems from high demand and a lack of control. The pressure mounts during the summer season, with increased workload, staff vacations and a shortage of skilled technicians. Add to this the lack of positive feedback, and burnout is just around the corner. Make sure to show your managers and technicians that their work is valued and appreciated. A cooler of cold water and Gatorade can go a long way! 

Preventing Burnout

Work-Life Balance: Encourage a healthy work-life balance throughout your team. From ensuring that everyone takes their lunch breaks to getting people out the door when we close, these small steps can help improve morale and productivity. 

Regular Breaks: Promote regular breaks throughout the workday, something I struggled with as a technician and still do today. 

Empowerment: Give your employees more control over their work if possible. This autonomy can significantly enhance job satisfaction and combat burnout. I know this is a fine balance, especially if you’re in the “air traffic controller” role and customers need their vehicles back yesterday! 

Delegation and Cross-Training: Consider cross-training your staff. This approach can distribute the workload evenly, relieve the pressure on key team members and ensure smooth operations, especially during peak periods and vacations. Recently, we had a shop foreman cover for a manager and sold a $10,000 job on his first try! We also had our parts manager cover for a service advisor, and she did fantastic too. Give people a chance, and they may pleasantly surprise you! 

Transitions and Realistic Expectations

Help your team transition from work mode with end-of-day rituals. From cleaning tools for technicians to completing daily reports for managers, these routines can help everyone disconnect from work and transition to personal time. Just be careful with a beer-thirty on Fridays; providing alcohol opens us up for liability. 

Promote a culture of 'completion over perfection'. Even the most experienced among us can make mistakes when under stress. Creating an environment where mistakes are viewed as opportunities for learning can alleviate unnecessary pressure and promote growth. 

Positive comments go a long way, and they are free to give out. Be genuine, specific, and consistent. This will help to ward off burnout among our staff. 

In our high-pressure world of auto repair, we must recognize and address the burnout within our ranks as shop owners. As we navigate the summer season, let's be the leaders our teams need. Let's recognize their hard work, appreciate their dedication, and, most importantly, let's respect their limits. Our shops will be better off for it. 

Please share your thoughts with me at [email protected]

About the Author

Greg Bunch

Greg Bunch is the founder/CEO of Aspen Auto Clinic, a six-shop operation in Colorado, and the founder/CEO of Transformers Institute, a training, coaching, and consulting company for the auto repair industry.

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