7 tips for a better work-life balance in the auto industry

7 tips for a better work-life balance in the auto industry

What are the secrets to achieving a great work-life balance when you’re running a busy auto workshop? We ask our experts.

When you’re running your own business, maintaining a good work-life balance can be difficult.

In fact, when Members were asked about the biggest challenges of running an automotive business for Capricorn’s State of the Nation Report 2022, a good work-life balance topped the list, at 42%. The same percentage said they also struggled to find time to take a break or holiday.

The study also found 54% of Members consider having a good work-life balance to be a key indicator of success.

For many Members there’s a clearly a disconnect between what they want and the reality they’re living. So, what can they do about it? We spoke to some experts to get their advice. Here’s what they told us.

Prepare for work-life balance early

Automotive business coach, Workshop Whisperer Rachael Sheldrick said the first thing any workshop owner who wants a better work-life balance needs to do is “stop, take a step

back and consider where you fit on a scale between struggling and high performance”.

“Somewhere in the middle there is what we call ‘a lifestyle business’ and you can’t become a high-performance business and have it run successfully — with you being like a CEO rather than an owner-operator — if you haven’t paused in the middle at ‘lifestyle’ to assess what you want your work-life balance to look like. Do you want to have a four-day work week? Do you want to be able to come in and out as you please? Do you want to have a manager? It’s all of that kind of stuff.

“When workshop owners are struggling they think the answer is to create a multimillion dollar business and then they’ll have everything made. But the problem is that if you don’t stop in the middle somewhere, you’ll get to ‘high performance’ and it will be chaos — and you’ll be required in the business more than you ever have been.

Ms Sheldrick said many of her clients had adapted, at lifestyle business stage, to a four-day work week.

“But you don’t get there unless you actually plan for it — and there’s a whole heap of customisation, recruitment and leadership that needs to happen as you’re on your way out of ‘struggle business’ for you to arrive at ‘lifestyle’ and be able to put those things in place.

“There’s a fair bit of planning that goes into it.”

Let’s look at what some of that planning needs to be.

Structure, leadership, training

Jeff Smit, Technical Editor at The Automotive Technician, said structuring your business correctly, including having the right people and processes in place, was key to achieving a work-life balance.

He said for his own business that meant hiring a manager, which freed up his own time so he could either work on the business or on other things.

“You have to make sure whoever is employed as the manager knows what to do, what’s expected, and has the tools and the infrastructure in place to be able to achieve it,” Mr Smit said. “Then get out of the way and let him do it — which is the hardest part of all.”

Mr Smit’s tips:

  • Have a hierarchy or structure in place, with a clear chain of responsibility when you’re not in the workshop
  • Have policies and procedures in place and make sure everyone understands them
  • Train your team, so that they have the skills and experience to do the job while you’re not around
  • Delegate jobs and authority, so everyone knows who is responsible for what tasks when you’re not there.

Be willing to hand over control

Mr Smit said many workshop owners, often having built up their business from scratch, struggle to relinquish control. But unless you do, you’ll never have the work-life balance you crave.

“The owner can really become the bottleneck of the workshop because they try to control everything,” he said. “Then they’ve actually become detrimental to the business.

Train the person, gradually test them, trust them, and “then stop butting in”, Mr Smit said.

Hire well (even if you’re a one-person business)

One of the secrets to the above is hiring well. But what if you’re essentially a one-person workshop? How is it possible to have some kind of work-life balance then?

Ms Sheldrick said her advice was “to recruit another pair of hands ASAP”.

“While you might be able to shut down at Christmas for two weeks and that’s acceptable, those type of businesses don’t recover financially through the rest of the year; that cashflow hole just gets bigger every year,” she said.

The possible exception to this was project-based workshops, like restorers.

Give your team a stake in the future

Another secret to achieving work-life balance is having reliable, long-term staff. Mr Smit said a good way to achieve that was to give employees a stake in the business.

“You’ve got to give them a reason to stick around,” he said. “You’ve got to get them involved, get them bought into the business. Even if it’s not a profit share or a stake in the business per se, but you’ve got to give them some sort of pride and a reason to keep turning up, week after week.

“If they don’t feel there’s a future for them there, they’ll look elsewhere.”

Train the whole team in the basics

Mr Smit advised training your whole team in the basics.

“Train your technicians to answer the phone, to do the invoicing, to do the day-to-day stuff,” he said.

“Train them in everything needed to keep your business going for the time you want to take off.

“It’s a bit of an investment, and a bit of training has got to happen to make achieving a work-life balance possible.”

Prioritise your time off

Perhaps the biggest secret to achieving work-life balance is to prioritise your time away from the workshop.

It’s something Capricorn Member Glenn Matthew, co-owner of Autoclinic in Heidelberg Heights, Victoria, did many years ago — and he has no regrets.

“I only work a nine-day fortnight,” Mr Matthew said. “I have every second Friday off and it just boosts my energy up.

“I find a lot of guys don’t get their holidays and they become flat and they start being rude to their customers because they’re burnt out.”

For Mr Matthew it was easy to find someone he trusts to leave in charge — his business partnership has been going strong for 33 years. While not every Member is so fortunate, with the tips from our experts above, you can start laying the groundwork towards a better work-life balance.

You can read Ms Sheldrick’s eight indicators of success for workshop owners here and read the full State of the Nation Report here.

This article was published 08/12/2020 and the content is current as at the date of publication.