‘Work-Life balance? In a dealership? Not a chance…’

That was an actual quote from a friend of mine who has worked in the F&I world since the early 80’s. She laughed when I asked her if it was ever possible to achieve that balance working in F&I. But I had worked with her for years and understood exactly why she felt that way.

F&I managers (again, I was one for several years in some of the highest volume stores on the East Coast) often have the distinction of being the first to show up and the last to leave. If there is a potential buyer with a pulse, there could be a deal to make and F&I are often the only ones that can issues tags and execute the paperwork, even for spot deals. So…you are there anywhere from 50-75 hours per week in a moderately busy store.

I once fell asleep in an Isuzu on the showroom floor at 12:30 AM waiting for a deal that I knew was never going to happen. End of the year bonus for our GM was on the line so guess who had to stay to see if a Trooper could be delivered? Me. And no, they did not take the truck.

I had been there for 15 hours that day. Some work-life balance alright.

So, can you establish a healthy work-life balance for your F&I staff? Is it possible?

It’s important to first understand why a good work-life balance is important, what the consequences are of NOT offering it in your dealership, and some simple strategies to implement that can help achieve it.

A Hot Topic Over the Last Decadework-life balance

Psychologists, sociologists, and even popular self-help gurus have all studied and written about the notion of a good work-life balance and no matter the particular angle, there is a consensus about what it looks like and what it can mean, both good and bad.

When employees feel that they are taken care of by their employer and that they are seen as a ‘whole person’ rather than just a worker, this is the start of work-life balance. Of course, this could look different depending on the specific person and what they are looking for in their workplace to help them be less stressed and more productive. The ‘right’ balance is truly individual in most cases.

Some workers are ok with longer hours if they get some form of increased recognition or pay. Others would rather work a standard 40 hour week so they can be home more often and are willing to give up some extra compensation to have it. Ask for their input, listen to what they really need.

Poor work-life balance tends to reveal higher rates of absenteeism and decreased productivity. Workers feel that they have to take their work home with them, check email, etc. It interferes with their personal relationships and can have an adverse effect on their health.  Too many hours, low pay, low respect that impact workers when they are ‘off the clock’ are all signs of poor work-life balance.

Ok…but this is fine to study this in terms of the 9-5 office worker. What about F&I and how truly unique a position it is? Does any of this matter for them and how can you provide the same in a dealership setting? After all, there is no work setting quite like a car dealership.

Easy. Let’s take a look…

Hours That Work for Everyone…

Some dealers in recent years have moved to a more creative way to handle the F&I scheduling. A few dealer groups have moved to hiring PT F&I staff to help with the cyclical nature of the business, offering them 25-30 hours per week with a compensation plan that makes it easy to still maintain a high 5 figure or low 6 figure income. This takes a load off the core staff by giving them a little extra time off during the week for rest and rejuvenation.

Consider making it a standard practice to offer a capped 50-hour week…no more. Show your F&I staff that you respect their personal time and will not ALLOW staff to overwork. It sends a positive message that work-life balance is important in your store. Allow for a strong compensation plan to help your high producers make the money they want without killing themselves to do it.

If your store is open Sundays, consider a one-day weekend, one-off weekday schedule. Again, this gives the F&I managers a precious day during the week to handle errands, appointments, and family obligations. No working all weekend and if your store is closed on Sunday, consider a mandatory Saturday off during the month. A full weekend (not at the end of course) off is like gold to an F&I manager.

Understand What ‘Burnout’ Looks Like in F&I…

Burnout will look different in a dealership than it would in an office. Your F&I manager is motivated by sales and commission…if they are not there to do the deal, most of the time they don’t get paid. An office worker gets paid no matter what and even gets paid leave in most cases. It’s a different beast altogether and the signs of burnout are unique.

F&I managers that are working too long will have trouble in executing paperwork properly. Mistakes will be made, signatures missing, chargebacks increasing. Deals will take longer than they should. Tempers will run high between F&I and sales for sometimes the smallest of things. CSI can suffer. It can be a real mess. I know…that was me back in the day.

Some industry experts speculate that after about 70 deals in a month, mistakes will increase. Is that true? Maybe. I know my deals suffered when I was working 7 days a week, bell-to-bell and I did far more than 70 deals in a month. My PRU was high for sure but so were my mistakes.

Absenteeism may not be obvious as most F&I managers will come in with a 104 fever to do a day’s worth of deals (I did, true story). Eventually they will call out but only after checking into an ER first. Head that off by simply asking for input from your staff about sick time and don’t punish them for taking a sick day. Let them know their wellbeing is important.

It’s the Little Things…

From my own experience at a small family-owned, single location Chevy store, I loved that the owners made our dealership environment fun and treated everyone like family. We had one Saturday a month off, always a day off during the week, and when the pressure was on at the end of the month, they staggered our schedule just enough that we have some breathing room but never lost out on good deals. No one was allowed to work 7 days a week and the owners would always check in with us to see how we were feeling about our jobs.

We had all three meals were catered at the end of the month push, the owners and senior management celebrated our successes, and there were company parties for all holidays as a way to all get together for some light-hearted fun. It can’t always be a grind.

It may seem like silly, small things to do but the best dealerships with the happiest and highest earning F&I managers make it their mission to treat their staff like family, not just employees. If you master that, you never have to worry about work-life balance for your F&I managers. 

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Kristine Cain is a freelance writer who loves the car business, hiking long trails, and the Steelers (not necessarily in that order). After finishing a degree in psychology at George Mason University in Virginia, she got her first taste of the dealer world working in the service department of a high volume Honda store. Warned early on that the car business would ‘get in her blood’, it did and Kristine made the leap into F&I departments at several stores around the Washington DC area and later to an automotive information company in dealer sales. A veteran of over 20 years in B2B sales to dealers, she leverages that knowledge to help write within the dealer market. Kristine lives in Holly Springs, NC with her husband and family.

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