7 strategies for retaining staff long-term


Two men in workshop

How do you ensure you retain workshop staff long-term? We asked industry veteran and Capricorn Chairman Mark Cooper for his ideas.

Losing a good team member is not just frustrating, it can be expensive, too.

You don’t just lose an experienced worker; you incur all the costs of replacing them — advertising costs, downtime and onboarding expenses, for example.

In 2020, 36% of Members told Capricorn’s State of the Nation that finding good staff was one of the top five challenges their business faced. (That rises to 45% of panel and paint and 51% for tyre and suspension workshops.) While only 9% of Members said retaining staff long-term was a top five concern, the two problems are inherently linked: the longer you can keep good people, the less you’re going to need to find good people.

So, how do you ensure you retain your staff long-term? We asked industry veteran and Capricorn Chairman Mark Cooper for his ideas.

Let’s start with the question of money

Obviously, everyone’s first thought when it comes to encouraging staff to stay is offering them more money. Mark says that’s not necessarily the whole answer, but it is important to get the money question right.

“A key to engaging people for a long time is money needs to be right,” he said. “But it doesn’t have to be the best and latest package out there. It just needs to reflect the market price.

“So, if the going annual wage out there is $60,000 per annum for a mechanic, and you’re roughly on that $60,000 — although others might be offering $65,000 or $70,000 a year — you’re in the right place.

“You don’t have to offer the $65,000 or $70,000; you just need to be on the average money — the right money for the job.

“Once you’ve got rid of the money question, it’s not the key motivator (for a team member to leave).”

Make sure your staff feels valued

Mark said employees are more likely to stay long-term if they know, and feel, they are valued.

“If people are appreciated, they’re listened to, they’re a valued team member, then they go to work and they get more enjoyment out of being part of that team,” he said. “Then they feel valued; they’re more engaged; they’re more likely to stay.”

What does that look like in practice?

“It’s about them being involved,” Mark said.

“Listen to their input and give them feedback on their ideas or their suggestions.

“You may not adopt their ideas or suggestions, but at least if you come back to them and go, ‘thanks, for letting me know that. I've had a look at it and it's not going to work for these reasons….’ You’ve shown you value their input.”

Offer flexible working arrangements

Mark said it’s becoming more common for staff to request flexible working arrangements. The days of 8am to 5pm, five or six days a week, are disappearing in many industries, and automotive industry employees are starting to expect a little flexibility, too.

“That is hard from a workshop perspective because generally you’ve got the people that you need, no more, no less,” Mark said.

“But, if you can, allow people to be able to take the afternoon off if they need to do so, or offer them some form of flexible working arrangement so they can get some personal things done during the day as well.”

Group of people in front of car

Give them a stake in the future

Another incentive to stay is giving the employee a stake in the success of the business — perhaps a clear career pathway, a chance to buy into the business, or even the opportunity to take over the workshop when you retire.

“A career pathway is important,” Mark said. “If they can move up into roles of foreman or workshop manager, it certainly helps — although this is not always possible for a smaller workshop.

“You have to be really careful about giving someone an actual stake in the business. It needs to be real and meaningful. It can’t be a game. A lot of employers will give people a pretend stake in the business. Like, ‘in five years you earn this and in 10 years you earn this’. It’s all fictional and if the employee leaves, they end up with nothing.

“If you’re going to do an ownership agreement, it needs to have a time line.”

Ensure you have a great workplace culture

Employees will stay somewhere if they are happy, and having a great workplace culture is a huge part of that. If there’s bullying or micromanagement or poor health and safety, they’re not going to stick around.

Mark said it’s up to the workshop owner to set the tone.

“It has to stem from the top,” he said. “Whatever tone the owner of the business sets, they’ll ultimately set the culture. So, if you’ve got a good and inclusive mindset, and there is no bullying or misbehaviour tolerated, then the culture will naturally attract the right people and the culture will take care of itself.”

Part of setting the workplace culture is ensuring there is no tolerance of any behaviour that is against your company policies or against the law. Where such behaviour occurs, it’s vital to take the appropriate action in response – otherwise the behaviour (and its negative effects) might proliferate.

“If you (allow something) in that workplace that is creating a bad culture and it’s not dealt with, that’s the time it gets really hard to bring the culture back online,” Mark said.

Provide lots of training opportunities

Mark said employees like to be able to further and improve their skills, so offering staff regular training opportunities can be a real secret weapon when it comes to retaining people. And it has the added bonus that the new skills learned can improve your workshop’s productivity.

Don’t forget to recognise and reward efforts and achievements

Finally, Mark said it was important to remember to recognise when team members had done a good job.

“It could just be ‘hey, well done’,” Mark said.

“But it’s about just not taking people for granted. You don’t have to get on your knees and worship them and thank them every day. But if they go out of their way and they do something really good, you should let them know.

“It’s all these little things —  it’s the collection of the one percent extras, if you like — that make people feel valued.”

You can read the full State of the Nation Report 2020 here.

This article was published 01/06/2021 and the content is current as at the date of publication.