Improving workplace morale without breaking the bank

Staff having a warm drink and talking

Staff shortages in the automotive industry are nothing new and as 2023 rolls on there are no signs of relief. The industry as a whole is extremely busy, and most workshops are booked out well in advance. In such a climate, managing and retaining existing staff is more important than ever.

While remuneration plays an important role in staff retention, studies continually show that workplace morale and happiness carry much more weight, especially among millennial employees.

What follows are some simple ideas for the creation of happy workplaces, without breaking the bank.

Praise and recognition

Feeling unappreciated is one of the main reasons people quit their jobs. Delivering impromptu praise for a job well done is highly recommended and so easy to do. But be consistent. If a team member deserves to be recognised for outstanding work, tell them immediately. If it can’t be done in person, send a private text message after hours to the staff member. The unexpectedness of the gesture gives it a greater impact.

Avoid micromanaging

This is a common flaw in the aftermarket workshop industry, a leftover from workshops’ early days, starting out as sole traders. As the business grows, technicians are added to the staff, but the owner, through habit, wants to be 100 per cent across all staff activity, on every job, every minute of the day. If employees feel they are constantly

on their boss’s radar, they are not going to perform the way they normally would, and resentment will soon follow. So start trusting your employees and let them do the job they were hired to do. No doubt they will get some things wrong, but over time these issues can generally be fixed with training and experience.

Physical working conditions

The days of grease monkeys in grotty workshops are over. Today’s working environment will dictate the level of workshop morale. To attract and retain the next generation of technicians, the whole workshop environment, including the office, lunchroom and staff amenities, must be clean and tidy. Heating and air conditioning are significant investments, but they make a huge difference to workshop morale during extreme weather conditions.

Invest in your team’s growth

Employees need to constantly grow in order to feel fulfilled. When employees feel stagnant, that’s when many start scrolling through the job ads. Training is also essential for survival in the industry, so training needs to be non-negotiable. Some staff may resist training but persevere and you will notice a spring in their step after the first session.

Give them challenges

Good technicians will look for a new job if they feel stagnant and unchallenged. Appreciating that servicing and simple mechanical repairs may constitute the majority of the workshop’s activity, there will always be a steady flow of more challenging work. Job satisfaction will improve if employees are challenged with different jobs from time to time. It’s a fact of human nature – a sense of satisfaction follows the completion of a different and challenging job.

Give staff a big hello

Workshops can be quite manic in the morning with cars lined up, and everyone wants a piece of the boss. It’s not uncommon for staff to be under the bonnet without having said “good morning” to their workmates. That’s not a great start to the day. As silly as it sounds, say good morning to everyone even if it is at 10am, after the morning rush.

Meaningful job perks

Job perks are those little unexpected surprises that staff will recognise as a thank you from the boss for doing good work. Perks come in many different shapes and sizes, and they need to be matched to the employees. Examples include fuel cards, use of workshop vehicles, Friday team

lunches, birthday dinners, in-house coffee machines, flexible work hours, 4-day work weeks, and group morning fitness sessions. The great thing with job perks is that they can be unique to your workshop, setting you apart from others.

Addressing workplace issues

Rifts happen. It is imperative that any issues are addressed ASAP. Doing nothing in the hope the problem goes away doesn’t work. If someone is extremely grumpy, or their work effort drops off, it’s usually an indication that something is bothering them. Sit down with them as soon as possible and sort it out.

Deal with disruptive employees

Staff shortages aside, a workshop cannot afford to allow a disruptive person to infiltrate an otherwise good team. Issues of inappropriate behaviour or poor performance need to be resolved quickly through the use of formal HR processes which may lead to termination in some cases. If you need to do so you should seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity to ensure that you don't allow these issues to progress and become more difficult to deal with.

In summary, while the money is important, being happy at work is worth a lot more and can usually be the best way to retain good staff. Invest the extra time to build a happy workplace and the benefits that follow will be genuine employee friendships, improved personal wellbeing and, for you, a healthier bottom line.

This article was published 20/04/2023 and the content is current as at the date of publication.