It’s not easy to find experienced auto technicians. Most look for employment because of discontentment with their current employer. Employee satisfaction is essential to retaining good technicians.

They are a breed all their own. Keeping them happy and motivated sets the mood for the entire shop. As most service managers can attest, maintaining a positive work environment in the shop is necessary but difficult at times.

Compensation as a Motivator

Simply raising hourly rates isn’t necessarily a great motivator, at least not in the long run. Technicians may be happy they got an increase for a week or two, but the motivating factor will soon wear off, if there are other issues left unresolved.

Instead, think of ways to use compensation as an incentive for motivation. These types of incentives should be tied to increasing service-department profitability.

Using incentives as a motivator while improving shop profitability should be based on customer satisfaction and retention, performance and reducing expenses.

Incentives can be monetary in nature, a prize (such as a trip or dinner for two) or some type of recognition. 

Customer-satisfaction incentives for technicians can be based on customer survey scores for fix-it-right-the-first-time or the least amount of shop comebacks.

Production incentives can be based on a specific amount of flagged hours or hours up-sold in a given period of time. To help reduce expenses, track shop supplies used by individual technicians and give an incentive by keeping supplies under a specific amount.

If a technician goes to a higher certification level, some type of reward should be given.

If the incentive is in the form of a goal, make sure it is achievable, otherwise it will create resentment of its own.

Negative Factors of Motivation

Sometimes, the best approach is to avoid situations that create negative motivation. Keeping in mind that technicians are in a class by themselves, some of them often teased or ridiculed by their peers for the smallest thing.

I once paged a technician over the loud speaker to come to my office. I was later told his colleagues jeered him and made snide remarks as he left his work spot. That was the last time I ever paged a technician like that.

I learned a lesson. Afterwards, whenever I needed to counsel a technician, I did it discreetly so that other technicians were unaware.

When a technician is counseled, focus on the positive whenever possible. If any types of disciplinary warnings are required, always give constructive criticism. Let technicians know you want them to succeed. Give them a plan of action to correct any deficiencies.

As stated earlier, getting a pay raise is not a good motivator, at least not in the long run. However, not getting a raise may be a negative reinforcement.

When the labor rate is increased and techs don’t get a simultaneous bump in their hourly pay rate, it can decrease morale throughout the shop. It’s not about the money; it’s more of a sense that upper management is unfair and uncaring.

Recognition as a Motivator

Technicians take great pride in their abilities. A little recognition for a job well done goes a long way. A simple pat on the back once in a while can be a great motivator.

If a technician deserves praise for going above and beyond the call of duty, let the dealer principal or general manager know. Ask if they can personally acknowledge the accomplishment. 

Service managers and shop foremen should make it a point to walk around the shop each day to talk with technicians. If they discuss family or personal issues, make a mental note and ask them in future conversations about those issues.

Managers should learn technicians’ family members names and use their names in the walk-around conversation. This type of action demonstrates management cares.

Ask Questions, Listen and Take Action

When shop morale is low, the best approach to get to the root of it is to ask questions, listen and take action. This can be done one-on-one, in a meeting or both.

Whatever approach is used, the response to questions needs to be backed up by actions. Do what you say you will do. If you don’t intend to take action, don’t say it.

To recap, use incentives, avoid negativity and recognize accomplishments. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Following these simple rules can improve and maintain a positive shop environment.

Fixed-operations expert James Clausen is a veteran of the auto industry. He can be reached at jamesclausen@verizon.net.