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Your technicians are your lifeblood. It doesn’t matter how many flashy new diagnostic programs you bring in, or how great your advertising is; if your techs aren’t happy, your shop is likely to stall out.

The deck is already stacked against the shop owner. Joe Puff over at Vehicle Repair Pros cites a Department of Labor report that indicates there aren’t enough heavy-duty repair technicians to go around. We won’t get into the numbers here, but their message is clear: if you’ve got good technicians, you’d better keep them. 

There’s a lot that goes into creating a working environment that attracts and retains good technicians. Think beyond pay rates and health insurance for a moment — though those are important — and look at employee morale, which for our purposes reflects overall employee sentiment and enthusiasm for your shop. In short, it’s something you definitely want.

Studies indicate that happy office employees get a lot more done. Happy technicians will also be more productive. The better your shop functions, the better your bottom line, and the better off everyone is. So how do you increase employee morale in your heavy-duty repair shop? We’ve come up with a few ideas.

Create an Efficient Workplace

Your technician needs to complete an oil change. Easy, right? Not if he’s running all over the shop looking for the tools he needs before he even gets started. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but that time spent gathering gear instead of working can add up over the course of days, weeks, and months. Give your technicians their time back by providing a workspace that lets them get the job done without needing to hunt down parts and tools. 

  • Sean Kilcarr over at FleetOwner Magazine suggests work carts and storage stations at each bay. This allows your technicians to grab the tools and parts they need quickly, instead of wandering the shop in search of parts.
  • Invest in tools and/or implement processes like centralized ordering to help you streamline operations. 
  • Keep your shop clean and climate-controlled. This may mean investing in a better HVAC system or additional lights; anything that helps your techs do their jobs in comfort, especially when it gets hot or cold, is going to add to your repair shop’s morale. 

Help Your Techs Grow

Technology continues to advance in leaps and bounds, and there’s no better way to show your techs that you’re invested in their growth by providing time and/or a stipend to advance their learning. For example, consider helping them gain ASE certifications, and providing bonuses or pay bumps for those who reach certain benchmarks.  

Part of retaining good technicians is providing a clear way to additional responsibility and higher wages, and the most efficient way to do that is through a review process. A thorough review process lets technicians know where they stand and what steps they need to take to reach the next desired level of their career; this level of transparency, of knowing exactly what you need to do to move up, goes a long way in building morale.  

By the way, reviews aren’t just a one-way conversation. If your idea of providing a review is talking to a silent employee, you’re doing it wrong. Frame your review as a discussion, asking your tech what they think about this mark or that one, and where they want to go next in their career. 

Be a Good Boss

Consider this: the average American works at least 40 hours a week, and often much more than that. In short, your techs are probably spending more time at the shop than with their families, so make sure it’s their shop. If your employees feel they have a genuine say in things, and can contribute to the shop as a whole, they’ll be that much more invested in their everyday duties. 

Give Them a Place to Voice Concerns

Engaged employees are far more productive over time, so if something is wearing on your techs, you’ll want to know about it. Since you can’t magically discern their potential concerns, provide a platform they can use to ask questions and offer feedback. It can be as simple as a suggestion box, where employees can leave anonymous questions and comments. The anonymity gives them a layer of protection while letting them air their thoughts. If you’ve got a more vocal group, you can also consider setting aside 5-10 minutes at the end of a weekly meeting to address concerns, roadblocks, or problems.

One piece of advice: If you’re going to create a platform for employees to voice their concerns, it’s on you to make sure those concerns are acknowledged and addressed. Techs will figure out very quickly whether or not you intend to make changes based on their suggestions, and listening to their thoughts and doing nothing is one of the biggest morale killers at work. By providing this platform to them, you are promising you will listen. 

Be Upfront

To that end, we’re well aware that sometimes a situation isn’t repairable overnight — or worse, it may not be fixable at all. Seasonal slow periods, industry shifts, and other things can impact your bottom line and your ability to rectify certain issues. Don’t sweep concerns under the rug just because you can’t immediately do anything about them. You’re all adults here; being upfront and honest with your techs will help build mutual respect. 

Provide Recognition

Raises are great, and if you can give them, you absolutely should. But most shops are on a budget and can’t throw money even at the very best technicians. When the funding won’t allow monetary reward, a heartfelt “thank-you” goes a long way. 

You can thank your techs in a lot of ways. Sure, you absolutely should thank them when they do a good job or help you out with something — that’s just common courtesy. Take it a step further by building out an “Employee of the Month” program, complete with a portrait of the winning tech and some of their good deeds. It provides instant recognition, and if it’s in a place visible to customers, so much the better. Just about everyone likes being acknowledged for their good work, and knowing you take pride in them will bolster their pride in the workplace.  

Encourage Work-Life Balance

Your techs spend a lot of time here. Make sure you’ve created an environment where they feel comfortable taking a day off if they need to look after a sick kid or themselves. Employees who feel they have to put their jobs before their own health or family quickly become resentful, so make it clear that family comes first

Make it Fun

Like we said up top, most folks spend a lot of time at work. So why not make it a fun place to be? Obviously the demands and layout of a heavy-duty shop don’t allow for a carbon copy of other “culture perks” that a standard office might have, but you can still look to them for inspiration. 

  • Celebrate together. Acknowledge birthdays, work anniversaries, and National Donut Day (er, among others, of course). You can even roll this into a monthly gathering; ask each employee to bring something — potato salad, dessert, beer, whatever — and enjoy a good old-fashioned potluck together. Food and drink loosens people up; your crew will get to know each other and you, and those sorts of bonds can keep people happy and workplaces upbeat for years. 
  • Keep snacks around. Sure, most shops usually have a pot of coffee going, but is it good coffee, or the cheapest sludge you can find? An assortment of healthy (OK…and maybe semi-healthy) snacks can also go a long way; granola bars, fruit, carrot sticks, and the like will keep the techs going in between breaks, and maybe you’ve got a stash of candy bars you can raid during an especially long day.
  • Get creative with teambuilding. Not everyone likes trust falls. Actually, we’re pretty sure no one likes trust falls. Teambuilding is an important element of most workplaces, but you don’t need to call in a suit-wearing HR rep to help your team become more cohesive. Look into activities like hiking, bowling, or even trivia night at a local pub to help your crew learn to rely on and trust one another. 

Running a heavy-duty shop is hard work. Don’t add to your burdens by adding unhappy employees to the mix. They’re willing to work hard for you, so do your part by creating to happy, productive workplace for them. When morale is good, people are willing to go the extra mile — and that’s what we call a win all around.

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Suz Baldwin

Suz Baldwin got her start in the automotive industry, writing and editing for several motorcycle and classic car magazines straight out of college. In the years that followed, she’s written all sorts of copy for brands big and small while consuming enough coffee to paralyze a dinosaur.