Work First, Then Play!
Reasons why you need to put some "fun" back into your workday.
When I first thought of writing this article, I had an idea that I would talk to shop owners from all corners of the United States and a handful of shops in the middle. I thought that I would find new, unique things to share with all of you. I did find some creative ideas for incorporating fun into your workday, but I also found many similarities and they were all good.
What I found to be true is that as Americans, we like "things automotive." We like our families, our freedom and fun. We sponsor race teams, we have barbecues, we share our humor and our stories. This economy has been challenging for all of us, and worse for some shops in some parts of the country. When money gets tight and work gets more difficult, it is easy to forget that we all need fun as an integral part of our jobs.
In fact, some shop owners were honest enough to say the economy had put fun on the bottom of the priority list. They were glad to be reminded that it was a productive venture and one worth reinstituting! We spend way too much time at the shop to have it be devoid of the play we need to let off stress and to boost us up on a bad day or a bad week. Truthfully, technology keeps changing, but the human body hasn't. We need stress relief in the form of play and humor.
I also discovered that letting play lapse is a lot like not advertising when business is slow. That's a bad management plan on both fronts. Shop owners know that when it is slow, you need to keep advertising and marketing. Move the ball forward on the playing field. And likewise, when business is slow or the jobs coming in are not the best jobs, then fun has to occur as the antidote to tedium. On the opposite side of a slow shop is a shop where it is so hectic that the only thing that gets scheduled is work, and management forgets to leave any time for play or relief. It may be hard to justify the time, but think of it as an investment in yourself and your staff.
Phil Fournier, owner of Phil's Auto Clinic, Hemet, Calif., was excited to share his daily routine of a morning meeting/check in. "Our morning meeting sets the tone for the day and it always contains a joke and some humor," he said. "My staff comes prepared to share and they look forward to joining up. I want my shop to always be a place where my staff and I look forward to coming to work!"
While visiting George Sotiropolis, owner of Bravo Service, Worcester, Mass., a spontaneous event occurred that supports Phil's philosophy. George and I were laughing out loud so hard that his staff later commented that they had not heard him be so lighthearted in a long time! It made him realize that yes, the owner sets the tone in the shop, and that trickles down to everyone. Having playful moments or fun diversions are just a good thing to do.
Karleen Gouviea, Wayside Auto Sales and Service, Seekonk, Mass., shared her wisdom about fun from the perspective of a family business. "Since I work with all family, my husband, Albert, and I began restoring Corvettes together. When the shop gets a little heavy we take a break and hop on the Internet and research our hobby as a fun diversion. We also have our son, Al's, racecar to focus on. That is something we can all get involved with to whatever degree we want."
Many of the shops I spoke to had a race car, or in several cases more than one! The staff teamed up to produce winning performance and competitive fun. They all voiced similar opinions that the race car bonded them and was the focus of their combined efforts. A lot of emotions are involved in racing a car. Fun is definitely one of them. The racing experience was the catalyst that generated better overall relationships between staff and owners.
One of the best and most fun events we ever did at Van Batenburg's Garage was a morale booster that had long-lasting effects. We told the staff that we were having a staff meeting because we wanted to discuss some serious issues. We instructed the staff to let their family/ partners know that they would not be home for dinner. When it was time for the meeting to start, instead of pizza they got a limo ride and a night out at the regional racetrack! We ate the pizza in the limo and had a delightful, surprising journey.
When I interviewed Matt Overbeck, Overbeck Auto Service, Cincinnati, Ohio for this article, he responded with a puzzled look. After ruminating on the question, "What does your shop do for fun?," he truthfully answered that his shop wasn't doing anything for fun. I responded by sharing a piece of wisdom that was passed on to me: "If you're not having any fun, you're not being any fun!"
Several days later I heard from Matt by e-mail. Here is a part of his response that I find so insightful, and I am sure will resonate with many of you. Matt writes, "I wanted to expand on the shop fun question you had for me this past weekend. I had forgotten about a couple things we did a few years ago. After a challenging 2009 in terms of business, I forgot some of the things we have done. Back in 2007, I shut down the shop for a day and took everyone out to a local indoor go kart racing track exclusively rented to our shop. We had a pizza party lunch and extended organized racing with the overall winners receiving trophies. In 2008 I did a similar event where we closed for a day and took everyone to Toyota in Georgetown, Ky., to watch Camrys being built. It was a lot of fun and everyone enjoyed it."
So, have you let fun slip out of the work equation? If you think your staff isn't fun right now, which some shop owners said, I challenge you to take a risk and invite the "cranky person" to take on being in charge of creating some play. It may seem ridiculous or even impossible, but just asking could shift the energy in your shop and give your staff a positive charge!
In an article by Maria Zane on "Incorporating Stress Management Activities as Play for your Staff," she suggests listening to music as a short break can be an easy way to recharge before returning to work. Only you know if this tip would work for your staff, but again, trying it could produce unexpected results!
Strong's Automotive, Denver, has a unique twist on the music idea. When interviewing Ryan Chapman from Strong's, the first thing that came to mind for him was how they handle music at their shop. All the employees like different kinds of music so each day they rotate who is in charge of the music selection. When it is "your" day, you can play your music or opt for no music at all. It keeps things hoppin' at Strong's.
All shops have productivity and performance as priorities, but a good exercise is to ask yourself this question: Would we all go home and be a better partner, parent or friend if our workday had some comic relief or some sense of play?
Play can be free, or at least affordable. If your shop is not engaged in this concept, who or what is in the way? As Phil Fournier says, "Nothing makes us laugh more than a latex glove water balloon fight on a hot day! It's definitely worth the mess! " Instituting fun is definitely worth the effort. Now, go out and play!
Editor's note: This article is one of several management articles that are being contributed to AutoInc. this year by Automotive Management Institute (AMI) instructors. To learn more about AMI, its courses and instructors, visit www.AMIonline.org.
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