To achieve high levels of performance in your shop, you need to have a complete staff of techs who are ready, willing and able to serve your customers’ automotive repair and maintenance needs. When a tech leaves, it makes a hole in your organization that negatively affects your work flow, your cash flow, your profitability, your techs’ morale, and your customer satisfaction. If dissatisfied customers leave your shop, they probably won’t be back, so the effects can be long-lasting. And then there is the time, effort, and expense required to find a good prospect to replace the one who has left.
Dealing with staff turnover is an ongoing occupational hazard in the auto repair industry. Finding the right new tech for your shop is a major hassle, every time it becomes necessary. But instead of watching this turnover process play out like a never-ending slow-motion train wreck, consider creating a shop environment that will make your techs motivated, satisfied, long-term members of your team.
Let’s take a look at the causes of staff turnover, and some solutions that you can implement now to prevent or minimize the loss of valued techs.
The causes of staff turnover
There is a wide variety of issues that cause techs to leave their employers. Here is a list – it makes for very sobering reading:
- Low wages
- Inadequate benefits
- Flat-rate pay systems that are unfair to lower-level techs
- Tool costs and debt
- Jobs in other related fields that pay much more, with better benefits
- Older, long-time techs feeling neglected and taken for granted
- Bad hiring practices that lead to bad hires
- Lack of sufficient training and onboarding systems
- Poor management and workflow processes
- Lack of work/life balance
Do any of these ring a bell? If so, it is time to make some changes – if you want that revolving door of constant staff turnover to slow down and stop!
Solutions to fight staff turnover
Cutting down on staff turnover is a many-faceted process. Retaining your techs for the long haul requires an approach that attacks the problem from a variety of different angles. Let’s examine some ways that you can keep your techs from drifting out the door:
Hire the right people in the first place: There’s a useful business saying that goes like this: “Hire slow and fire fast.” When evaluating new hires, take your time and be sure that the person you are considering can not only fix cars, but will fit in with your other staff, wants to grow along with your shop, and has a clean background check, including a good driving record.
To get the best techs for your specific shop, be honest with prospects. Explain all the details of your shop’s working conditions, how work breaks are structured, and the expected speed and volume of the workflow they will be handling. Tell them about the other techs they will be working with and those techs’ individual strengths. Be specific about the pay and the benefits, as well as any opportunities for growth within the shop.
Encourage and reward successful referrals from your current staff. Your techs are very likely to know other techs in other shops, and many are interested in improving their situations. These referrals are usually of much higher quality than those you get from conventional means, since your staff members are putting their own credibility on the line through their recommendations.
One more tip: hire with a trial probationary period of 60 to 90 days. There’s no substitute for seeing how a tech actually performs in your shop, under your actual working conditions, and interacting with your existing staff. If a tech doesn’t work out within the probationary period, you can simply terminate him or her and move on.
Provide pay, benefits, and bonuses that will keep techs from straying: Think about the total cost of replacing a tech who has left for “greener” pastures. Sure, there’s the cost of training and supervising that new employee. But now consider these costs:
- The cost of all the repair work that can’t be completed because you lost a tech
- The cost of having to dump that work on another, already busy tech
- The detailed knowledge of those customers’ cars that has left with the departing tech
- The cost of seeing some of the departing tech’s customers leaving along with the tech
It’s starting to seem pretty expensive to lose that tech, isn’t it? So if pay and benefits are a major reason for techs leaving a shop (and they are), why not step up and pay your techs what they are worth, before your competitors do?
There are many benefits that flow from keeping your good techs for the long haul. Your customers will build relationships with the tech who regularly works on their car, which bonds them to your shop. When these customers tell their friends and relatives about the great job that their tech did on their cars, you are likely to get new customers who are after the same positive experience. It’s a win-win!
Structure a benefit plan that rewards long-term retention. Additional weeks of vacation for more years of service are a great perk that techs will appreciate. Flexible hours that provide work-life balance are another way to show you care. Bonuses tied to customer satisfaction are another way for the techs and the management to work together for the betterment of all.
Continuing education support: Techs are constantly trying to hit a moving target. There is a steady stream of new vehicle models, new features, and new technologies coming off the production lines. These cars, trucks, and SUVs are going to be driving into your shop before long.
Be ready for the latest vehicles by helping your techs keep up with them. Have a shop budget for continuing education, certification, and licensing, spending it where the shop needs it most. Spread it around so that your entire staff can benefit, whatever their current skill levels. You will benefit from all the capabilities that a highly trained and experienced tech staff can provide, and your staff will want to stay with you and advance even further up the ladder.
Define a career path for your techs: Show that you can help your techs achieve their work-related goals. Entry-level techs do not want to be on the bottom rung forever. Show them, as well as other techs at higher levels, that they can advance as far as they are able, and you will support them. Techs that have an achievable longer-term goal within your organization will be much less likely to leave it.
Keep your staff engaged: To boost employee retention, you need to make your techs feel that they are succeeding in their jobs, and that they will be recognized for doing a great job. Help your techs to do that great job by encouraging communication, fixing problem areas, and improving workflow. Value your techs’ input and be sure that their vision of your shop’s operation is lined up with yours. Once that everyone is pulling in the same direction, you will see successful outcomes more consistently.
Promote work/life balance for your techs: Overworking and burning out your techs is a surefire way to send them out the door. Remember that everyone has a life outside of work, whether or not they are married, or have kids to take care of. Some employees may have elderly parents to take care of, and others may be divorced with children they want to visit. Offering flexible hours will be greatly appreciated by many members of your staff, and may actually help your shop to extend its hours without much additional payroll cost.
Encourage your techs to take their paid time off when they are not feeling well – this will help them to recover faster and can prevent the entire shop from getting sick! And insist that every tech uses every day of their vacation time, every year, to relieve built-up stress and benefit his or her own mental health. An annual use-it-or-lose-it vacation policy will encourage techs to take their vacations – and enjoy them! They will return to your shop refreshed and ready for the next challenge. And by the way, Mr. Shop Owner, you should be taking all of your own vacation, too – for the same good reasons!
Use technology to improve communication: Make it easy for your techs to do their jobs. Use internal chat apps to eliminate time-wasting walking around or missed phone calls. Add tablets to your computer systems so techs can work and communicate while they are working on a vehicle, and don’t need to be tethered to the desktop. Technology done right helps your shop run more smoothly, with lower stress and more satisfied – and efficient – techs.
Don’t take your older, more experienced techs for granted: It’s fine to focus on building up a team of young, tech-savvy, rising stars to deal with the challenges coming in the future. Just be sure that this does not lead to neglect of your core of older, experienced technicians. Within these professionals resides a huge amount of institutional stability, knowledge, and wisdom. If these techs walk out the door, your shop will be the loser.
As older techs approach retirement age, give them the flexibility to continue working at your shop as they transition to their next life stage. Whatever age they may be, remember to appreciate and celebrate the contributions of these long-term employees who have made the commitment to serve and strengthen your business. If you don’t value them, the shop down the street will!
Build a culture that encourages loyalty: Think about the type of workplace that you provide for your techs and other employees. Do you:
- Trust your techs to do the right thing?
- Treat them with respect?
- Welcome them to bring difficult-to-resolve issues to you?
- Recognize them when they go above and beyond?
- Speak with your techs at regular intervals about their satisfaction, their goals, and how you can help them with both?
- Recognize service anniversaries for every tech, every year?
- Have team-building events outside of work hours periodically?
- Provide a special lunch every month or so?
- Keep techs updated on news and developments in your field?
- Support your techs’ goals outside the shop wherever possible?
- Avoid negativity and focus on the positive?
- Ask questions and help to resolve outstanding problems when you discover them in the shop?
If you are, then you know that this is precisely the right way to create a shop atmosphere that makes your employees eager to come to work every day. If not, it’s time to make some changes. You need to constantly show your techs how much you value them, and act like you mean it. Every day, in every way, you should be “walking the walk.” They will pay you back by doing good work and staying at your shop.
Make your shop a pleasant and safe place to work: This is more of a physical plant and working conditions issue, and is separate from the “building a culture” point made above – but some of these elements will certainly contribute to more loyal employees. Here are tips for succeeding in this area:
- A shop layout that is uncluttered, space-efficient and organized
- Well-maintained and state-of-the-art shop tools and equipment
- Clean bathrooms and showers for use by techs
- A place set up for staff to store, heat and eat meals
- Availability of personal protection and safety equipment
- Good coffee and a water cooler
The formula for retaining your techs is quite similar to the ones that make them productive and happy
If you have read the previous installments of this series on “Hiring & Managing Staff & Techs,” you may have noticed some recurring themes. It’s no accident that the same strategies that promote your employees’ efficiency, productivity, and happiness will also result in their staying at your shop for the long haul. You should already understand how good it is to have happy, productive techs who are on your side, working with you to make your shop a successful and profitable business with many satisfied customers. Keeping them on board, year after year, just makes it all so much better.
If you have already achieved this blessed state, congratulations! If not, you now have your blueprint – it’s time to get your shop in gear and start winning!