Many of us in the auto industry are familiar with the term “bell-to-bell” as a means of expressing the long hours’ sales staff work at their dealerships. Coming in early and staying late is the norm for a lot of working adults in America (and other leading nations worldwide) where balancing the demands of work with the need for personal and family time is a constant struggle. Dealerships that create a good work-life balance for their staff will reap the benefits of increased productivity and more profitable sales in a more enjoyable workplace.
From Bright-eyed to Burned-out
To properly address the causes of workplace stress and its effects, it’s important to define what work-life balance is for your dealership. Maintaining a healthy level of productivity while engaging with family and friends means different things to different people. Some people are highly career-minded and seek to put in extra hours to obtain increasing amounts of financial gain, personal advancement or far-reaching impacts to help others succeed. While others aren’t as concerned about their job versus their personal life and will do the least amount of work for them to get by with.
Having a healthy work-life balance at the dealership means establishing a culture that supports the staff in their endeavors so they may be more inspired and productive at work. Obtaining this takes time and a concerted effort from leadership and management to lay out a framework that promotes good habits and social support. Leaders must learn to spot the apparent and the not so obvious signs of work-life stress and openly discuss them with those affected so they feel supported and cared for by their employers.
By the Numbers
Statistical figures regarding the impact of workplace stress are numerous but consistently paint the same picture – that workplace stress is unhealthy and costs businesses and individuals time and money every year. The latest findings note some 83% of US workers report being stressed by their employment, with only 43% of people feeling like their employer is concerned about their work-life struggle. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), workplace stress can become harmful to someone’s mental and physical wellbeing when not addressed constructively. Some sources of stress often include:
- Excessive workloads
- Conflicting demands or unclear performance expectations
- Lack of social support
The toll this stress takes over time can be detrimental to the employee’s wellbeing, with ramifications rippling throughout their social interactions – affecting their relationships with family, friends, and coworkers. Physical manifestations of stress include a poor diet, lack of sleep and exercise, problems with weight and energy, irritability with coworkers, occurrences of high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, heart disease, and other maladies. These mental and emotional conditions can become crippling and progress into burnout, depression, and anxiety. Eventually robbing one of their ability to function well and could lead them into a physician-led treatment plan of prescription medicines and even hospitalization in severe cases.
Get in the Habit of Habit-making
Achieving a more balanced work-life relationship will benefit dealerships both financially and socially. Revenue is lost when overworked staff makes errors, workplace accidents occur due to fatigued personnel losing focus and tempers flare when stress runs high between coworkers.
Dealers can create a good work-life balance and address some, if not most of these issues, by creating good habits to follow at work and home. Personal habits can be easy to make, but difficult to change or maintain. And making poor choices over time decreases one’s likelihood of feeling good about themselves and prevents them from being productive. Dealerships can help employees change their habits from poor to good, from harmful to healthy by getting involved with their staff on a more personal level.
- Respect Everyone’s Time – Don’t expect overtime or extra hours to be the norm at your dealership. Taking care of the customer is priority one, but an exhausted team will provide poor quality service. Schedule frequent breaks for service technicians and allow some personal-time errands to run a little longer when it’s an important matter for a staff member. Getting to see their daughter’s soccer game, or caring for an elderly parent needn’t cause additional stress because it overlaps with work time.
- Encourage/implement a partner-up system – If a deal is taking place that will cause one sales staff member to work longer, pass it to their teammate to finish without penalty or loss of commission. This may mean changing the pay structure or establishing a team bonus payout system to compensate for any potential earnings missed when life causes a member to leave early.
- Hire part-time personnel – Car sales follow a yearly cycle, making downtime more prevalent in certain months than others. Hire part-time sales agents for the busier months to give full-time workers the ability to keep a regular schedule. A bustling service department could benefit from an Express Service tech that handles simple jobs on busy days, like oil changes and tire rotations, so seasoned mechanics are freed-up to address that lengthy transmission repair.
- Focus on employee health – Form the habit of putting your health first and do things like establishing a discount gym membership for employees, inviting a local masseuse to the dealership for a half-day of 15-minute chair massages, or joining a seasonal adult sports league to get staff together for fun activities. Set up an exercise area at your dealership if your budget and space allow for it, so team members can’t make an excuse about not working out.
- Bring the family to work – Combat the work-life demon by regularly hosting events and activities that involve the families of staff. Anything from a Saturday cookout to closing early on a weekday during summer break (at 5 p.m. on Tue or Wed?) to go to a local park, waterpark, theme park, or other recreation facilities for fun and games. Encourage employees to pick the place, and don’t tie it to any performance metric, as this is a team-building event for everyone to enjoy.
- Be the example – Of course, any good habit starts from the top, so General Managers and Service Managers need to model what a good work-life balance looks like so employees can develop their own and follow along.
- Involve the crew – Ask staff members their thoughts on the work-life balance matter; after all, they need to voice what they want it to look like. To keep it pressure-free, make a quick anonymous survey they’ll complete or have the department heads switch sides and ask each other’s employees what work-life means to them and what the dealership can do to help them enact better habits.
The APA also notes when controlling workplace stress, its important to communicate expectations between employers and employees; and to manage conflicts respectfully to curb tempers and invoke a sense of wellbeing while ensuring the staff has a safe work environment. The goal is to establish a work climate that is both supportive and socially connected.
Don’t let the hype from publications and social media hamper you from addressing the work-life balance relationship at your dealership. The effects of stress are clear and clearly increasing. From money spent on sick days and medical bills to decreases in sales and productivity, a stressed-out staff furthers an unhealthy dealership culture and costs everyone in the end. Creating a good work-life balance takes a dedicated leadership effort and honest discussions with personnel. Make a habit of breaking bad ones and replace them with personal and socially constructive ones. Get to know your team, make personal time and personal well being a priority, and introduce fun to your dealership in ways that show you care. Just as the Citadel wasn’t built in a day, so too will forming healthy habits within your business take time. Be persistent. The benefits of a good work-life balance greatly outnumber the reasons to not have one.
The last tip for dealers: When employees are at home (or just away from work), encourage them to unplug from work. Talk with them about sharing their home-life responsibilities equally when possible and to get support from friends and family when they can. If stress or other difficulties are beginning to overwhelm them, let them know it’s ok to seek professional help from the Employee Assistance Program or other organizations offering guidance and counseling services. It’s important to be proactive with health and wellness matters, so encourage them to speak up often when they feel life is throwing too much their way.