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As this industry continues to struggle with attracting and retaining quality people, we need to change how we relate to employees. They work hard and deserve to be treated better. Time spent listening, talking and building relationships with your employees will be time well-invested — and appreciated.
We need to be more than just employers and managers. We need to care about our employees.
Not long ago, one of our technicians and I had a conversation about his potential and what he was missing out on by being so inconsistent with his ability. He agreed!
When I asked him what was going on in his life that could be causing such behavior, he said, "I’m in a relationship that’s bad, but it’s so hard to just leave." When I asked him how long this had been going on, he said "Years!"
Then he went on to tell me that his mother had been battling cancer. It was in remission until recently. His mother had worked two jobs before, so now he was trying to help her with the bills and around the house.
"And my relationship with my girlfriend doesn’t help matters," he said.
"Do you think things are going to change with your girlfriend?" I asked. "Don’t you think you need to make some decisions?"
"Ron," he said, "I know I need to do something, but I just don’t. We’re always fighting; things just aren’t working out. But I don’t do anything."
I asked if I could give him my opinion — and then did just that. "Get out of the relationship," I said. "You’ll be happy, and she probably will be, too. If you have things you’ve purchased together and know it’s going to cause a fight splitting things up, just give them to her. Go back to your mother’s place and live there. Help her through her hard times, with the bills and around the house.
"This all has to be done in stages," I said. "Make a plan and then do it. You’re going to find that your life, job and attitude will be so much better."
Eight weeks later, that same technician asked to talk to me again. The first thing he said was, "The first stage is done."
At first, I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. "I moved back to my mother’s," he said with so much pride. "I’m going to save so much money. I thought I was going to feel bad about doing it, but I actually feel pretty good, relieved. Now I can help my mother, and I’ll have more money than I’ll know what to do with. It’s great."
I was stunned. I didn’t realize that what I said eight weeks earlier had been absorbed. All I could say was, "That’s great." Then I asked him what the second stage was, and he said he planned to buy a new car, pay off some student loans, get caught up on some bills and save some money.
The feeling I had after talking to him was better than the feeling I get when a customer picks up a car that’s been in a train wreck and now looks like new.
The Moral of the Story
Sometimes we get so caught up in day-to-day operations, customer service, insurance-company relations, and everything else that goes on in the shop, that we — as employers and managers — forget how important our people are. The wonderful feeling I received knowing that someone’s life was changing because I took the time to care about him rather than his production schedule was overwhelming.
As this ever-changing business continues to have problems with attracting and retaining great people, I think we as an industry need to change how we treat employees. I call them precious diamonds. They work hard and deserve to be paid more and treated better.
As owners and managers, we also need to spend more time helping some of them get back on the right road when they’re having a hard time. Like everything else in business, caring takes time — but it’s worth it when even one person says, "Thanks for helping me."
Writer Ron Peretta is owner of Professionals Auto Body in Altoona, Pa.