Collision repair shops need to be prepared in advance to deal with sudden or planned absenteeism.
Collision repair shops are able to seamlessly conduct their day-to-day operations with the help of their employees, be it repair technicians, paint technicians or even apprentices. An oft encountered hiccup in the smooth running of a shop is absenteeism, especially unplanned ones. “Absenteeism can cause higher levels of stress and fatigue on your staff. Ultimately, negatively impacting culture and staff morale, this may lead to employee attrition,” says Paul Prochilo, CEO of Simplicity Car Care.
Good work environment and work ethic
Creating a positive work culture from the get-go is crucial to dealing with absenteeism, according to Josh Kazdan, owner of Better Image Collision. “My key strategy is to maintain a happy and positive work environment to have less absenteeism. Employees want to come to work if it is a friendly and happy work environment,” he says.
A challenging situation for Kazdan was when his oldest and best employee had to take a four-month leave due to a surgery. He notes that since he did not bear any grudge at the genuinely required leave, his employee came back to work as a part-timer after recovering from the surgery.
An important point to remember when faced with unplanned absenteeism is to not overload the technicians who are in the shop. “If enough skilled personnel are not available, we have to change our scheduling sometimes to deflect the technicians available to do the work. We spread it out a little thinner so that it is not such a heavy workload while we are a man short,” explains Kazdan.
Prochilo says that he is a huge proponent of doing more with less. “Reduce the scheduling on a day-to-day basis to account for the missing co-worker. There is nothing worse than taking on more work than you can handle, which stresses out staff and upsets clients,” he cautions.
For Kazdan, dealing with absenteeism begins at the hiring stage itself. “It is imperative that you hire people who have a good work ethic and they show up every day. My suggestion is hiring older people that have a far superior work ethic. My older people have missed two days in five years whereas the younger ones have missed five days in one year. I find a direct correlation between the age of an employee and their work ethic,” he explains.
When faced with situations of unplanned absenteeism, Kazdan has found that having a large repair facility works to his advantage. He has members of his staff cross-trained to address such situations. “Cross-training repairers is a great fail-safe. It is good to keep guys cross-trained and keep them in practice so if a prepper is gone one day, someone preps and next day if a body man’s gone, he might do body work,” he explains.
Following a similar strategy in his organization, Prochilo advocates a comprehensive Succession Planning policy. “It is instrumental in ensuring production, and on-time deliveries are met, during a unique circumstance such as unplanned absenteeism,” he says. He adds that in a busy collision repair centre, cross-functional training and tying in compensation to the number of skill sets acquired by staff (both in office and in production) are extremely necessary. This provides a cushion to the collision repairer as a skilled team member can step-up in place of the missing colleague.
“If staff counts are down either intentionally or due to an unexpected circumstance, a standardized systematic process will assist you in achieving the desired targets, despite the reduced staff count,” he notes. Prochilo has often used a few key strategies, one of them being finding a coach to assist. If a shop does not have a standardized process, it is better to reach out for help. “Possible outlets are consultants, paint manufacture reps, or someone from a performance group or network. Having guidance through the process will drive results exponentially faster,” suggests Prochilo. Additionally, he advocates the use of a systems thinking approach. This approach takes a broader look at a problem (in this case, absenteeism), identifying its implications throughout the entire system. “You are able to identify deeper underlying problems that, when resolved, impact more than the one isolated issue. It could resolve multiple issues related to absenteeism at once,” he explains.
Managing difficult situations
In difficult situations when technicians may need to take longer unplanned leave, possibly due to injuries or other serious reasons, Kazdan has a ready solution. “I would call in semi-retired guys to lend a hand while we are waiting for the injured employee to come back,” he says. The strategy has worked well for him since these are people who have already worked for him. They know the shop and its systems. “I am fortunate that I know skilled stand-by people that are able to come in on short notice,” he adds.
To tackle such cases, Prochilo says that Simplicity Car Care has recently deployed a program named “Simplicity Mobile Tech Support”. “We recruit and develop technicians who are paid a premium on a flat rate basis, trained and tested on our repair systems, to support collision centres that require tech support,” he explains. In unplanned absenteeism cases, these technicians are called at their first available opportunity. He also suggests reaching out to jobbers and paint suppliers to find out if they know any technicians who are looking for part-time employment.
Planning well and having effective strategies in place may help collision repair shops avoid losses due to absenteeism. “Ninety-four percent of problems in a business are systems driven and six percent are people driven. Therefore, you need to look at your staff composition and consider a succession plan project. Unexpected absenteeism shouldn’t shut down the entire system. If it does, you really need to focus on talent development,” says Prochilo.