I interviewed a body shop manager a few years ago who told me that he motivated his people through fear.
Everyone who worked there was scared of the guy and as a result, productivity was high, but most of his crew eventually left after 1--2 years. I asked him why he managed his people this way, and he said that he tried be a mentor and a friend to his employees for a long time, but most of them took advantage of the situation and his business suffered. He realized that when people fear for their jobs, they will work harder with better results. He admitted it created a lousy environment, but at least he was getting his money's worth out of everyone, he reasoned.
Dr. Nancy Friedman works with huge automotive corporations to help them with their morale, and often focuses on incentive programs that are designed to motivate and retain top employees. She has seen every form of employee management out there, so she knows what works and what does not.
"Motivating through fear is normally from the old, old school and it seldom works," she said. “It also creates a very unpleasant atmosphere and turnover. There are much better ways to get folks to do what you need done."
With a shortage of qualified people in this industry, managers can't act like Attila the Hun anymore. A good tech or estimator is worth its weight in gold, so keeping your best people is more important than ever. Rewarding your employees for their outstanding performance is one way to keep your crew happy and engaged, but many managers think it will cost too much or require too much time. But in reality, you can reward your employees for their good work without it costing you an arm and a leg.
So, here are some ways to motivate your employees that will cost you very little while creating a positive and productive working environment. Based on experience, happy employees don't send out resumes and are less likely to get poached by your competitors.
Make Work Fun Again!
Why does everyone have to be so serious all the time? It's easier to introduce some fun into your crew's daily activities and lighten up the mood. Some shops encourage their employees to come into work early by offering them special treats and reward zero absenteeism, while others include games at lunch or during breaks to alleviate fatigue and encourage interaction within the crew.
Dr. Friedman believes that this approach can work, but in moderation.
"There’s an old saying: 'Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life,'" Dr. Friedman said. "So no amount of games, activities, etc. can replace loving what you do, because if you do what you love, that's the real fun. I have seen these incentives work at some shops, but in the end, the motivation needs to come from your employees themselves."
Keep Everything Positive
Some shop managers call their employees out on the carpet whenever they do something wrong, but that won't build morale. Everyone wants to do a good job, so when they fail, they don't want to be embarrassed in front of their fellow employees. So always follow the classic management rule of "praise in public and criticize in private."
Conversely, if someone goes the extra mile to do an outstanding job, praise them in front of the crew and give them the kudos they deserve.
"Even a good technician or estimator will make a mistake now and then, so don't be too critical and overbearing when it happens," Dr. Friedman said. "Stay positive, but don't coddle them and communicate what you want to say behind closed doors if at all possible."
Talk to Your People
Some bosses only communicate with their employees when they're talking shop or assigning tasks. Getting to know your people is a key way to connect with them and retain them for the long run. Casual conversation and learning about your employees will foster stronger bonds and enable them to feel like they are members of your team. If you keep it impersonal, even your top employees can start to feel isolated and eventually look elsewhere for work.
"Some shop managers think they don't have enough time to talk to their employees, but it's an important part of creating a positive climate, so finding the time is essential," Dr. Friedman said. "Being nice to your people isn't difficult, but you also have to know when to be direct, and that way you'll gain their respect and keep them onboard."
Create a Wall of Fame
I have been to a few shops where they have photos of their employees on the wall in the reception area honoring them for their best work and other achievements, such as passing a training program. People appreciate being appreciated, and it's something easy to do. Your customers can also then see that you value their work, which creates a sense of security in the consumers' eyes.
“This is a great idea because everyone wants credit for doing a good job," Dr. Friedman said. "It might also be nice to let employees put up notes, emails and other things they get from happy customers. They are the ‘real’ fans. It makes employees feel good as well, seeing the accolades they created."
Special Days Off
It may not sound like much, but allowing your employees to leave early on birthdays and anniversaries is a sure way to win hearts and thereby increase productivity. Also, many shop managers give their people "mental health" days off and will accommodate things such as doctor's appointments, visits to the DMV and other tasks that require time off. Another solution that works at many shops is offering flexible hours, as long as it does not negatively impact their production. Some employees will take advantage of this system, so managers need to monitor this approach carefully.
"Some shops have reported that closing an hour early is as important as a day off," Dr. Friedman said. "That’s an easy one and your employees will appreciate it, especially if they have a long commute."
Keep Your Office Door Open
Give your employees the confidence to walk up to you whenever they have a concern, and be as transparent as you can in this regard. Encourage them to come up with new ideas and solutions, and let the younger employees pitch to the crew without getting negative feedback from your veteran employees. Some shops schedule semi-regular brainstorming sessions where your people can throw around ideas anonymously so that no one gets judged or marginalized for their enthusiasm.
"This does not mean that you have to literally keep your office door open," Dr. Friedman said. "But letting employees know that you will always have time for them is important. Not rushing them when they stop to talk is also key. In many cases, the best ideas will come from your employees during these open-door conversations."
You don’t always have to increase salaries or pass out hefty bonuses every time your crew is in the need for some motivation to work hard. Communicate with them, understand their cause for worry, add in some fun, make the work environment light and healthy, and you will retain your employees longer while improving their productivity.