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Career Shop or Stepping Stone? High Employee Turnover Rate

A high employee turnover rate can slow shop productivity, weaken the image of your business and dilute the morale of remaining employees. But by understanding techs’ most common complaints, getting personal and offering some unorthodox benefits, you can be sure the employees you hire today are with you tomorrow.

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Writer Paul Bailey, a contributing editor to BodyShop Business, has been a collision repairman for more than 20 years and is an avid photographer, writer and artist. Currently at work on what he expects to be his first book, Bailey resides in Florida with his wife, Cathy.

Do you run the kind of collision repair facility in which technicians spend a large part of their careers, or is your shop a stepping stone where technicians go for a paycheck while they wait for a better job?

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Keeping long-term employees is a challenge faced by many of today’s collision repair business owners as the number of available qualified technicians continues to decline. Unfortunately, a high employee turnover rate not only slows productivity but can weaken the image of your business and dilute the morale of remaining employees.

How can you be sure your business is a career shop rather than a stepping stone? By understanding the most common complaints techs voice, by getting personal and by offering some unorthodox benefits.

Common Complaints, Simple Solutions
1. The most common complaint among technicians in recent years is about "free work." You can give everyone in the shop, including yourself, a raise simply by writing more thorough supplements. Write estimates somewhat conservatively to get the job and then supplement to get your technicians properly compensated for all necessary procedures. Be sure to discuss repairs with your technicians to decide what’s needed to properly repair the vehicle — and don’t accept less. By standing firm on supplements, you’re standing up for your technicians’ right to fair compensation.

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Better supplementation would also help salaried technicians by reducing the pressure to produce. A common complaint among salaried employees is that no quantity of production is enough. Detailed coverage of necessary procedures would allow technicians reasonable time to perform such procedures while improving their ability to generate profit for the company.

2. Collision technicians change jobs for a variety of reasons other than monetary gain. Quite often, working conditions and benefits are the factors that influence a technician’s decision to choose one job over another. Keeping good quality technicians on board for the long haul may be as simple as re-evaluating your business as a place of employment and looking for ways to help make your technicians’ jobs more enjoyable. If business slows down, most technicians who enjoy their work, as well as their work environment, will stick around through the tough times.

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3. Another area of strife is scheduling. Try to locate and reduce difficulties your technicians are experiencing as they perform their duties. Concentrate on scheduling and coordinating procedures to maintain a smooth flow of work through the shop. Make a list of each technician’s favorite vehicles to work on and, when possible, try to assign those vehicles to the technicians who prefer them. In return for your efforts to improve their working environment and conditions, your technicians will be more productive and increasingly optimistic about their jobs.

Add a Personal Touch
Everyone likes to feel like they’re a part of something, and your employees are no different. There’s no better way to let them know you care about them and their families than to get personal.

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• Use an address book or computer database to record personal information about each of your employees, such as the names, ages and birthdays of spouses and children. Make a point to mail greeting cards for holidays or birthdays. You could also note personal interests or hobbies of each employee; a sincere interest in your employees’ personal lives exudes appreciation and respect. And the more your employees feel respected and appreciated, the more they’ll respect and appreciate you.

• Occasional company picnics are a great way to bring employees and their families together outside the stressful atmosphere of the workplace. Involving your employees’ families in company functions will increase the morale of employees as well as their families. By gathering families together for great food and activities, you can also encourage closer personal relationships between employees, which will strengthen the bonds that can keep a crew together for years to come.

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• You can also personalize benefits to satisfy the variety of your employees’ interests. After you’ve selected the perks you’d like to offer, employees could fill out a survey, numbering the available perks in order of personal preference. The survey would enable you to customize benefits to suit individual employees. You might also ask your employees to suggest reasonable benefits or perks they’d enjoy.

Benefits On a Budget
While not every business owner can afford to assemble a comprehensive benefits package, employee benefits are a necessity when competing for qualified technicians.

• In addition to the usual insurance and paid holidays, some small-business owners are offering unorthodox, yet quite attractive, benefits packages that are relatively easy to work into a small-business budget. Any reward you offer that improves the quality of employees’ lives while saving them money can add a spark to a somewhat bland benefits and compensation package.

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• Some companies have been known to offer premium cable or satellite TV packages as a benefit. You may even consider shopping around for a group rate at a local exercise gym or health club for your employees. Family-oriented activities, such as Saturday trips to parks and events or gift certificates for dinner and movies, also make good rewards that add a personal touch by including employees’ families.

• An often overlooked, long-term benefit is the purchase of U.S. Savings Bonds. As an incentive, savings bonds could be distributed on a monthly basis, and the dollar amount distributed to each employee could be based on individual production for the previous month. The purchase price of a Series EE savings bond is half of its face value, making it a very affordable and risk-free investment. Bonds are available through qualified financial institutions in denominations of $50, $75, $100, $200 or more; some banks even offer payroll savings plans and "Bond a Month" plans to assist customers with savings-bond purchases.

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Smaller, less-expected rewards can also show appreciation in big ways:

• On the anniversary of each employee’s hire date, you could treat that employee to lunch or the afternoon off. What a morale boost! Other morale-boosting rewards can be as simple as a tank of gas and a car wash or maybe 30-minute long-distance calling cards when shop production is up. When production is way up, you might add department-store or grocery-store gift certificates.

• Birthday cards containing $20 are another pleasant surprise. If your company offers paid holidays, you might even consider giving each employee his or her birthday off with holiday pay.

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• Occasional thank-you cards containing similar, small, cash gifts can reward employees for an excellent suggestion or for performance beyond the call of duty, such as staying late or working Saturday to get a job done. Be careful, though. Cash rewards such as this might come to be expected if they’re offered too frequently, so you may want to offer tool payments or oil changes as occasional substitutes for cash gifts.

Whether offered in the form of cash, service or merchandise, these small tokens of appreciation can boost morale and help motivate employees to go the extra mile when necessary.

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Put It in Writing
Although few consider it a benefit, a thoroughly written employee handbook can benefit both employer and employee. New or prospective employees can use the handbook to learn what will be expected from them by the company, as well as what they can expect from the company. Your handbook should cover as many details about your company as possible to avoid future problems resulting from a lack of communication — which will lessen the chances of an employee leaving due to a disagreement because a thorough employee handbook will prove itself an invaluable aid in settling disputes over policies or procedures. Shop procedures and policies, employees’ responsibilities and job descriptions, benefits and holiday policies should all be covered in detail in your company’s handbook.

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It’s also a good idea to update your handbook every year and review changes with your crew. As you strive for increased production and efficiency throughout the year, you may find it necessary to alter some standard operating procedures. By keeping your handbook abreast of the changes, you can reduce the likelihood of future disputes over shop procedures.

Make Yours a Career Shop
There will always be technicians who can’t be satisfied, but most reasonable people respond well to reasonable amenities — and very few will consider other jobs as long as they’re happy. That’s where you — as a conscientious shop owner — come in.

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You invest a lot of time and money in your techs, and it would be a shame if you let the competition steal them away. By thinking up unorthodox ways to thank them, acknowledging their work and showing you care, you can be sure the employees you hire today will be with you — not your competitors — tomorrow.

Writer Paul Bailey has been a collision repairman for 16 years and is an avid photographer and writer who maintains a consumer-awareness Web page in his spare time. He resides in Florida with his wife, Cathy.

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