By Murray Voth
From a very early age, I wanted to do work that was meaningful, that would “make a difference.” Was I unique in that, back in my day? It seems like that is what the last several generations of young people also want.
I currently do work that is meaningful and I get feedback that it is making a difference, but there have also been a lot of jobs I have done that did not, at least initially, feel like that. I have been a construction labourer, a framer, built floating docks and worked in a motorcycle shop. I have been a painter, I have cleaned out horse and chicken barns, I have slung bales of hay – among many other jobs I did, long before I came to managing service stations and running a shop. Some jobs were harder than others. But actually, each one came to feel meaningful, in its own way. That was, in part, because of the people I was working with.
From the time I first hired my own employees, I sensed that, while paying them well was important, most people want to work for more than a paycheque. But so few companies offer that; it seems there’s a huge disconnect out there. Many businesses see “labour” as their biggest expense, something they have to manage and control. As a result, surveys indicate that only 25% of employees in North America are engaged in their jobs; the rest are basically just there for the paycheque. Companies keep trying different ways to incentivize their people to work harder and to retain them – yet employees are asking for things that companies seem unable to give.
In a large study done by McKinsey and Company, there is a huge shift happening. Thanks to the pandemic, what some are calling “the great attrition” is underway. People are leaving their jobs in droves, many of them without having a new one in place. This confirms something I have known for decades, and have taught and trained – if anyone will listen.
In brief, the report indicates two powerful trends. The first is a strongly increased willingness on the part of employees to leave their current employment in the five countries surveyed (Canada, the USA, Australia, Singapore and the U.K.). The second is a growing disconnect between what workers are looking for and what employers are offering. The survey indicates that employees are looking for a more socially respectful environment, one where they feel more at home and accepted.
But it is not all touchy-feely stuff. As I grew in my skill and experience as a manager, I had some of the lowest employee turnover in the industry – and that includes the gas jockeys. But I am proud of many of these young people, who have gone on into careers in policing, medicine, engineering, aviation, hotel management, and some are current automotive shop owners.
This did not come about by accident. I was constantly taking training and reading and researching on how to do this well. As I began to coach and train shop owners, I discovered more principles to pass on to others as well.
Employee turnover is very expensive. Management is so busy controlling direct costs, they miss the indirect costs. Every time even a moderately competent employee walks out the door, a whole lot of training effort and learned insight walks out with them. Often key customer or client data and relationships goes as well. There is a rule of thumb that it effectively costs a year of salary for every employee who leaves. That’s double the wages for the first year of the new employee. What is just as expensive – maybe even more so – is poor hiring practices, and non-existent onboarding processes.
Here are some key principles of great employee attraction, performance, and retention:
1) Pay well. Research shows that when an employee earns enough to pay their everyday bills without stress, they begin to work for intrinsic reasons rather than purely extrinsic ones. Stop asking what is the going rate for a certain position. If you pay average, you will get average. Figure out how to make your business profitable so you can afford this. But you are going to find that in many cases, you will need to make the investment for it to pay for itself.
2) Hire people that are compatible. When you are interviewing a new candidate, always have in the back of your mind, would the other team members like them? Many times, business owners hire who they like, and then find the employees dislike them. If appropriate, have your senior team members be part of the interview process.
3) Provide high levels of autonomy appropriate to the position and responsibilities. This includes providing good onboarding and orientation, ongoing training and regular feedback and coaching. What I mean by autonomy is the ability to think for myself, make decisions, and not have someone looking over my shoulder and micromanaging me.
4) Encourage high levels of cooperation and demonstrate this behaviour in your own role as a leader and a manager.
5) Provide high levels of accountability. Not just concerning results and specific outcomes, but to the company’s values and overall objectives. Create an environment where everyone is expected to perform and if not, will be asked to leave the company. Employees want to care; they like being part of something where everyone cares, and they really dislike it when someone is not pulling their weight. And they detest it when management doesn’t do anything about it.
6) Ensure that the team works cohesively. Have meetings. Have a daily toolbox meeting that is five to seven minutes long (absolutely no longer). Hold it at the same time every day, usually at the beginning of the day, and make it clear the everyone is required to be there. Discuss what the day ahead looks like in the bays. Discuss what the day ahead looks like for the front counter. Ask the team if they have everything they need for the day. Is all equipment working, all computers functioning, etc.? Once you get good at these, you can add one training item that you are trying to implement.
It is my experience that shared values, a highly cooperative work environment, with high levels of autonomy, and high levels of accountability create the conditions of deep employee satisfaction.
This works. People work hard, stay with the company, and together achieve an outstanding reputation in the industry. People want to be part of something that is bigger than them.